It was always going to be a challenge for Jack Grealish to justify a £100m transfer fee, a number that made him England’s most expensive player ever. But he is struggling to even hit the bare minimum.
As Manchester City were held to a 1-1 draw by Southampton in the Premier League on Saturday evening, Grealish looked the City player least likely to make something happen.
No one in a navy blue shirt played at their best. But Kevin De Bruyne got significantly better as the game progressed, Raheem Sterling had chances despite underwhelming, an otherwise disappointing Phil Foden stung the palms of Fraser Forster, and Gabriel Jesus made a positive impact off the bench.
Grealish wasn’t at the races for 90 minutes, but he hasn’t really been for most of the season.
His only two Premier League goals in a City shirt have been largely meaningless, coming in one-sided 5-0 and 7-0 wins. He hasn’t recorded an assist in the league since October – this was a player who set up 12 goals in 26 Premier League games for a mid-table Aston Villa last season.
Grealish was not expected to revolutionise City because he was joining a team at the top of its game. But he shouldn’t have gone backwards and it typically makes for a much smoother transition joining an already successful team. The 26-year-old, despite no longer being a big fish in a small pond as he was at Villa, should have absolutely flourished in his new environment.
There is no questioning Grealish’s ability as a game-changing player at Premier League level and he was given every chance as soon as he arrived in Manchester by starting the first seven games of the new campaign – primarily in his favoured left wing position.
Proven title winners like Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez and Ferran Torres were being left out by Pep Guardiola to give him that opportunity. But after a promising August, Grealish was no longer justifying his place, which showed in then being more readily substituted in games.
A knock while on international duty in November didn’t help, nor did tabloid headlines about his personal life around the same time. Grealish was later dropped in December, with the implication from Guardiola that ‘behaviour’, rather than general rotation, was leading his team selections.
Goals and assists aren’t necessarily everything when it comes to judging players. But for a player whose measurable success last season was precisely that and is no longer commanding a regular starting place, despite costing £100m, it isn’t yet anything like good enough.