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Jack Grealish’s England snub had been coming

For several years, England’s public has insisted – at variously angry levels – that Gareth Southgate should pick his attackers based on form not reputation. In this Euro 2024 squad, possibly Southgate’s last in the job if things go badly, he has done exactly that. No Marcus Rashford, no Raheem Sterling, no Jack Grealish. Three wide players from the 2022 World Cup are out.

That seems entirely reasonable. Anthony Gordon has been magnificent for Newcastle United and merits his place.

Jarrod Bowen carried West Ham’s attack throughout last season and the same applies. Cole Palmer jumped ahead of both with his ludicrous breakout season. Make this a meritocracy and it’s hard to find fault. Now we will find out whether the strategy works.

Grealish is the most surprising omission post-cull to 26 players. He remains a potentially game-changing option off the bench, indeed proving as much against Bosnia & Herzegovina on Monday.

Those qualities that Grealish has developed at Manchester City – ball retention, stretching play, winning free-kicks – are particularly useful at international level. Southgate has taken a risk here.

But this has been in the post for some time. Grealish’s inclusion in the preliminary squad caused some grumbling.

He started only 10 Premier League games this season, was left on the bench 19 times and was involved in two of City’s 96 league goals.

For Southgate, this is insufficient proof of his readiness to hit the ground running in a major tournament. The starting front four – Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham, Harry Kane – was already set in stone.

Grealish has come in for some criticism for his enjoyment of City’s title celebrations. His propensity to mix business with pleasure is a refreshing throwback to some supporters, but there were signs this season that he risked falling foul of Pep Guardiola’s exacting standards.

If those suspicions have filtered through to Southgate, that’s a shame. Grealish turned up early for the pre-tournament camp but to no avail.

None of this is particularly edifying. Even if life under Guardiola has rounded some of Grealish’s most spectacularly mercurial rough edges, he remains a magnificent footballer to watch with the ball at his feet.

When a game is cagey and a defence lies deep, those lock-picking players count for double. It is to Grealish’s detriment that England now specialise in these players more than any other.

As with Rashford, professional setback must be fuel for redemption. Grealish now has a summer in which to prepare meticulously for next season in an attempt to knock Jeremy Doku further down the queue on the left wing.

He and Foden can start in the same XI, although they have only done so once in the Premier League in 2024. Having the motivation to prove people wrong and get his England place back can be powerful.

Turning 29 in September means that time is running low. Grealish has still only started one major tournament game for his country (Czech Republic in 2021), a meagre return for a player with his natural talent.

Staying in Manchester appears to be the agreement with Guardiola but he cannot continue to exist on the fringes of that squad and hope to be a key cog for England.

Grealish will have dreamed of making a difference this summer. He is not alone in adoring representing his country, but he is a deeply popular squadmate and his natural personality eases the pressure that others may find it harder to escape.

This must be his wake-up call. This is still a huge summer for the last stage of Grealish’s career at the highest level, just not how he envisaged it. If the result is a refreshed, rejuvenated player with doubters to prove wrong next season, that should be a source of joy for us all.

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