Jack Grealish to Euro 2024 in the name of maturity despite Eberechi Eze brilliance

Will Ford
Grealish England
Jack Grealish was excellent in his cameo for England against Bosnia.

Jack Grealish looked set to be the first name cut before his cameo against Bosnia. Eberechi Eze was brilliant but the Manchester City man answered his critics.

On this day last year Jack Grealish was celebrating his major role in Manchester City’s second gong of three. A week later he was lifting the Champions League trophy and appeared to spend the majority of the week after that bare-chested in the rain drinking Grey Goose straight from the bottle. As he watched Eberechi Eze glide past Bosnian chumps from the bench for the first hour on Monday he may well have been considering similar antics in Ibiza anytime from next week onwards, without such cause for celebration, accompanied by tabloid headlines based on him drowning his sorrows.

Having started 40 games for Manchester City last season, including every Champions League knockout game and the FA Cup semi and final on their way to the treble, Grealish started on just 22 occasions this term. When asked about his lack of minutes and what that means for his Euro 2024 hopes, Southgate insisted “We know the qualities he can bring”. The big problem for Grealish, on a night when not many of the key questions were answered, is that his greatest competition for a spot in the squad took his chance to display his alluring qualities.

Grealish has experience on his side. He now has 35 caps for England including ten major tournament appearances. Southgate values his “character” and the role he plays as a squad man – not something to be sniffed at among players set chiefly for a watching brief. And having looked “really bright” in training he was similarly sharp in the last half hour at St James’ Park.

Admittedly Harry Kane came on at the same time and was typically influential, but there’s little doubt Grealish made England better. It was everything you want in a cameo from the City star. He was fouled twice, won possession on three occasions and completed two key passes, a quite brilliant assist for Trent Alexander-Arnold’s fine volley and a clever nutmeg pass to find Maddison in the build-up to Harry Kane’s goal.

READ MORE: England player ratings v Bosnia: Eze, Palmer, TAA and Grealish stake claim but Watkins struggles

Pep Guardiola’s coaching may have come at a cost to Grealish’s directness and unpredictability that we all miss as selfish entertainment hounds but there’s great value to the maturity that’s come with that dulling down of his effervescence, particularly at a major tournament when knockout games frequently call for cool heads.

He’s given Southgate a lovely headache. Eze was excellent, drawing opponents in and slipping past them with power and body swerves. That should be enough to earn him a seat on the plane. Obviously Bukayo Saka’s in, and Phil Foden, almost certainly Cole Palmer after his debut goal from the penalty spot and glimpses of brilliance besides and probably Anthony Gordon to provide outright speed on the left.

It now looks like Jarrod Bowen and James Maddison are the odd men out. Jude Bellingham will play as the No.10 and if not him then Foden, and if not Foden then Palmer. Maddison’s ability in that position is in his passing and delivery, but much of that work tends to be from deep, where Trent Alexander-Arnold excelled to the point where we’re not sure the Tottenham man would be the backup to the backup in any position.

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And Bowen – unlike fellow relative newcomers Eze or Palmer – just doesn’t really look like an international footballer. He gets the ball, runs and either crosses or shoots. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that – it’s the reason he’s in with a chance of playing for England at the Euros. But we can’t help but feel there would be near unanimous groans from the England fans if he was seen coming off the bench ahead of any of the other forward options Southgate has the option of selecting ahead of him.

There may well be similar murmurings of discontent when Grealish is seen on the touchline ready to come on in two weeks’ time with England’s opener against Serbia goalless after an hour. ‘Why not Eze? Why not Palmer?’ we’ll all crow. But the man primed to be on the cutting room floor after the second friendly against Iceland on Friday showed he’s got more than good vibes to offer an England squad that could look rather raw without him.