Jack Grealish’s first season at Manchester City is a year of his career he certainly will never forget.
A campaign that started with a £100m transfer off the back of reaching the EURO 2020 final with England is now almost in the final stretch, with City fighting to become only the second English team in history to win a treble of Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.
But for the first time in his still young career, the 26-year-old has come under heavy criticism from all sides for his performances, although much of that has come from outsiders who live and die by goals and assists stats. By Grealish’s own admission they are areas he’ll look to improve in next season, but considering how difficult it is to adapt to Pep Guardiola’s system as a new player, Grealish has fared pretty well.
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By and large, most City fans are content with his progress. There are the odd grumbles about whether his £100m price tag was worth it, but the general consensus is that Grealish has been good, not great, this season, and that the expectation is that he’ll kick on in 2022/23. What has been most baffling about Grealish’s first season in Manchester though is not his relatively patchy form of him, but the reception he has faced from opposition supporters bot home and away.
On the face of it, he appears to be one of the most hated men in the country. Grealish’s every touch is booed by home supporters when City are on the road, jeered presumably because they now see him as someone who left his boyhood club for money, rather than the excellent career prospects joining City actually represented.
His reputation now among rival fans is quite shocking compared to the adulation he received while on England duty last summer. The midfielder was the darling of the nation as England came within a whisker of winning a first tournament since 1966 — despite the fact that he didn’t actually play that much.
Still, just the act of him stepping off the bench to warm up sent a buzz around Wembley Stadium, and his regular introductions from the bench injected his side with a new directness during tough moments.
Yet as soon as he joined City, that love evaporated just as quickly as it had emerged. On Saturday when England face Switzerland in a friendly at Wembley, he will likely get a good reaction if he comes off the bench, as he will on Tuesday when Gareth Southgate’s side take on Ivory Coast.
The Jekyll and Hyde opinion that English football fans now hold of Grealish is just something that he unfortunately has to live with, even if he is set to be one of the stars of England’s World Cup campaign at the end of the year. But should he perform well in this round of international fixtures, or in the Nations League coming up in June, then followers of the Three Lions might want to think twice before heckling their part-time hero next season.
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