The international weekend came at the wrong time for Aston Villa who was enjoying a four-game winning streak which propelled them into the top six of the Championship going into the break. The lack of club football is always depressing during these breaks, but Villa supporters may also be bemoaning the comments made by ex-Villan and England manager Gareth Southgate when asked about a certain Jack Grealish.
In a nutshell, Southgate’s comments indicated that Grealish should not be expecting a call up as long as he is plying his trade in the Championship.
“You see certain parts of the game but not others. Not the physicality at times, nor the tactical discipline. That’s another level in the Premier League: the speed, the pace. So, he’s a player we know all about, he’s a player we track. But that last bit of evidence that could give you the confidence to pick him at the moment we won’t see.”
So, are Southgate’s comments fair? Well, they’re certainly contradictory.
Although the gap between the Championship and the lower half of the Premier League is smaller than ever, there is still a definite step up in class. And when we’re talking about the top six teams in the country, then the gap suddenly becomes stratospheric. So, yes, there is of course merit to what Southgate is saying.
However, the comments become much odder when you consider that only back in October, Southgate called up Mason Mount who is on loan at Derby County this season from Chelsea.
Mount was indeed having a fine season with the Rams before injury struck back in January. The fact that their form has been massively inconsistent since then highlights his importance, much in the same way Grealish is vital for Villa. It certainly would’ve been interesting to see if Mount had continued to be part of the squad this time round had he not been injured.
So Southgate’s comments seem strange. After all, if Mount is worth a call-up, then what is the difference to taking a look at Grealish?
Grealish v Mount
At the time of Mount’s call up, Southgate said the following regarding the youngster: “He had a year at Vitesse Arnhem last year so he’s had another year of men’s football. This year in the Championship he’s created more chances than any other player in the league.”
Both fair points. However, by that same logic, Grealish must be worth a call up also. At 23 years of age, Grealish has Premier League experience with 34 games under his belt, very nearly a season’s worth all combined. Mount has zero top-flight appearances for his parent club Chelsea.
As for creating chances, Grealish’s average key passes per game is slightly better than Mount’s (2.2 compared to 2.1), and whilst I don’t really like assists stats as the striker being supplied can skew them, Grealish does boast 5 compared to 2 for the Derby man. It is worth noting that at the time of writing, Grealish has played 2,161 minutes this season, over 100 less than Mount.
Add to this Grealish demonstrating several times an ability to step up in huge games, whether it be the 2015 F.A Cup semi-final where he ran the show against an experienced Liverpool side, to smashing in an exquisite volley in what was, at the time, a must-win game against Cardiff City at Villa Park last season.
This is perhaps the biggest factor being overlooked for me; Grealish’s maturity. Even just a few weeks ago when attacked by the moron Birmingham City supporter, Grealish showed every single characteristic in that event that you’d want him to. He was non-confrontational in a way that most 23 years olds wouldn’t be in that situation. He wasn’t shaken by the events. And most importantly of all, he stepped up to win the game for his club.
If Southgate is talking about ‘men’s football’ as he puts it, he should certainly take into account the fact that Grealish remains the league’s most fouled player with plenty of ‘real men’ in a notoriously tough division kicking lumps out of him every single week.
Grealish’s form at Championship level has been imperious. And this piece is to take away nothing from Mason Mount who was absolutely one of the standout stars of this season up until his injury. I’m all for promising English talent to be given opportunities, and I thought it was great that Southgate gave Mount a call-up. I am a huge fan of the way Southgate is promoting youngsters that haven’t had much first-team football due to whatever circumstance but clearly has the talent to contribute to England.
But that’s what makes his comments all the more baffling. To effectively close the door on Grealish in this way makes no sense. Especially when he has called up Mount despite the same drawbacks to doing so.
No one is saying Grealish should’ve been involved in these qualifiers with the Czech Republic and Montenegro. But it seems odd that if Southgate has doubts over being able to ‘assess his level’, then surely a call up for a couple of friendlies (which are bound to come round at some point even with the new UEFA Nations League fixtures) would be the perfect opportunity to do that.
What makes it stranger is that Mount was called up for competitive fixtures against Croatia and Spain for the UEFA Nations League. Whether he was seen to be way off the standard required in training with England and has made Southgate think twice about looking at any further Championship players is a possibility of course. But it still seems limiting to close the door on everyone for that reason and strange if that stance has been taken for that reason.
Again, this is not intended to be a piece saying that Grealish is a better player than Mount; the comparisons I’ve made are simply to highlight how Southgate’s comments are contradictory to his actions beforehand.
Southgate’s comments will obviously be cause for concern for Villa fans. Whilst most supporters are fully aware that failure to gain promotion this season will almost certainly see Grealish leave, it also creates a nagging doubt whether even a return to Premier League action will be enough to hold onto our talisman.
Spurs are of course perennially linked with a transfer. If he had to leave, I personally would like to see him end up playing under a manager such as Mauricio Pochettino. However, the likes of Bournemouth and West Hame are also being credited with an interest of late. And I hate to admit it, but as established Premier League sides, they may turn out to be attractive destinations also for the player even if we do make a return.
It’s sometimes hard to remain impartial writing as a Villa fan, especially when it comes to Jack Grealish. But I’m absolutely certain that the hype is real. We know he cannot stay in this division any longer than this season and he needs to be playing Premier League football. But for me, the fact that he isn’t at the moment shouldn’t preclude him from a call-up. Especially when exceptions are being made for other players in the same boat.