With his socks rolled down and hair in perpetual motion, Jack Grealish doesn’t look much like a 21st century footballer. Then there is the manner in which he floats past opponents with a carefree abandon that gives the impression that productivity is a lesser motivation to fun.
Lastly, the way he often grabs a game by the scruff of the neck is an individualistic pursuit out of step with the uniformity in which Premier League stars are compelled to adhere to. He’s a local hero too and, without going all Nigel Farage on the subject, how rarely is that said that these days.
In short, the Aston Villa midfielder is a wonderful anachronism and should be celebrated as such.
In style and temperament Grealish is reminiscent of the ‘mavericks’ of yesteryear so perhaps it is apt – if depressingly so – that he has yet to be rewarded with an England cap. Famously the likes of Stan Bowles, Alan Hudson, and Tony Currie were routinely overlooked by a succession of England managers throughout the seventies due to their singular skills – the trio of silky greats garnered a measly 24 caps between them – but thankfully that comparison seems certain to end soon as the clamour to see the 24-year-old installed in the international set-up grows in volume.
And should he indeed find himself selected by Gareth Southgate in next spring’s friendlies Grealish’s ascent will be complete after bossing Premier League games all season so soon after demanding inclusion in last term’s Championship Team of the Year.
The latter achievement arrived despite missing two months through injury and despite too being sucker-punched by a pitch invader during the Second City derby. The player went on to score the only goal. Of course he did.
That determination and impact has only increased in recent months, inspired by the captain’s armband and a resolution to finally dispel the doubts that some still hold.
Stationed on the left with a license to roam Grealish has been superb and influential in equal measure. Prior to the weekend fixtures he had recorded 260 carries – 42 more than anyone else across the top flight – with 17 of them ending in a chance created and this plainly illustrates that here is a player not content to pass the buck: instead he drives forward, taking matters into his own hands.
This self-drive has resulted in authoritative performances at Arsenal and Manchester City where he proved to be a thorn in each side. It resulted too in a recent masterclass against Newcastle in front of the Sky Sports cameras. “I live for the big games,” he said post-game. Of course he does.
His virtuoso display that downed Steve Bruce’s side also brought high praise that is long overdue. “He ran the game tonight,” Gary Neville gushed while fellow pundit Jamie Carragher went further still claiming, “Very few players have got it, it feels like when he gets the ball, the game in some ways stops because everyone waits to see what he’s going to do.”
And just when Grealish’s reputation was beginning to culminate, he checked inside and caressed a delightful curled effort into the top-right corner at Old Trafford on Sunday. It was the type of strike that is reserved for some of the most technically refined talents in football, and his nonchalant celebration in front of the Stretford End revealed a level of arrogance that typically accompanies that level of ability.
Socks rolled down and hair in perpetual motion Jack Grealish doesn’t look much like a 21st century footballer nor does he play like one.
England need to benefit from this sooner rather than later.
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