On the recent Episode 121 of the My Old Man Said podcast, international breaks were referred to as being nothing more now than a opportunity for Villa fans to bash England boss Gareth Southgate on social media. MOMS was planning on doing A Venglos View satirical piece on the situation, but Southgate seems to have beaten us to it.
Addressing the backlash bestowed upon him by Villa supporters on social media regarding Jack Grealish’s lack of England game time, the England boss seemed to have his finger on the social media pulse, before England’s recent 3-0 win against Ireland
“I suppose on that you’re referring to Mason, whose only crime is not to be Jack at the moment,” joked Southgate, to the press (as reported in The Telegraph).
“I’m also aware I should talk about Mason because then it keeps the memes going of me talking about Mason,” the former Villa captain added.
“So we have got to fulfill all those requirements just to keep the Villa fans happy, especially.
“What would they be able to do on social media if they didn’t have that opportunity? So, yes, of course I’m aware Jack’s playing well.”
“Thou shall not overlook the prodigal son of B6” has fast become a fever pitch sentiment from many Villa supporters on social media. Maybe they’re just copying how Egyptian fans have reacted to any criticism of their favourite son, Trezeguet? Or how Tanzanian fans reacted to the rejection of their god, Samatta?
Joking aside, Grealish, who put in a decent performance for the hour he played against Ireland, has Villa supporters more emotionally invested in him due to his ‘one of our own’ status.
Reality Over Contrary
On a previous MOMS podcast show, before this season had kicked off, Southgate’s fairly logical reasons for not picking Grealish at the time were discussed, and reality seemed to bite some Villans. Stating the obvious was hardly being contrary, it was subjective and rational evaluation at the time.
There were several obvious reasons Gareth Southgate wasn’t picking Grealish last season:
England already had established and celebrated top players in Grealish’s position/s
Grealish had made a serious lockdown/NHS/Covid faux pas
Grealish, by his own admission, hadn’t had a great restart period form-wise, despite Villa staying up
When Southgate had gone to Villa matches, Grealish hadn’t had great games
His single figure goal and assist stats didn’t carry ‘wow factor’?
England hadn’t had a friendly for a while to blood him in
Taking your Villa hat off for a minute, surely it wasn’t such a surprise that Southgate didn’t pick him?
Also, as we had said on the podcast, there were two distinct advantages of Grealish not being picked for England at that time. First of all, there would be less chance of him getting injured for Villa, and secondly, it would get him to focus and raise his game in the 2020/21 season to prove himself to Southgate more.
The situation at the time was a win-win for Villa and as long as Grealish made the Euros squad, what was the online stress?
Based on the above points, MOMS wasn’t surprised he wasn’t selected, but earmarked in advance, the friendly against Wales, as the likely opportunity when Southgate would give Grealish his first proper run out – which happened.
Warped Hype Train
At the end of last season, the hype train was already way over the top and getting uncontrollable. Pretty much every media article was claiming Grealish’s goal against West Ham on the final day of the season, had ensured Villa’s Premier League survival.
Case in point – The Athletic publishing an article headlined ‘”A privilege to play alongside” – Grealish secures survival and legend status.’
‘Up stepped Villa’s leader to ease the nerves and smash in the goal that proved to make all the difference’, gushed the article.
What difference? The goal brought a sharp and welcome release of tension, but in reality, that only lasted a minute or so. Within a minute, West Ham had a goal that deflected off Grealish’s foot minutes later to essentially wipe out the impact of his earlier strike.
Jurgen Klopp said after Villa’s 7-2 win against Liverpool this season, that deflected goals are “bad blocks”, when actually defending the validity of Villa deflected strikes against his team. In mitigation though, Grealish certainly was a victim of bad luck with the West Ham goal, but the press were desperate to spin the simplistic narrative that Grealish had single-handedly saved Villa.
‘That West Ham equalised was irrelevant in the end and it was Grealish who had lifted the club from the depths of despair yet again,’ preached The Athletic article.
As the well-worn adage goes, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
West Ham’s goal wasn’t ‘irrelevant’. It turned three points into one, so the final result was the same as if it had been 0-0. Another fact that really helped lift the club from despair, was Watford sacking Nigel Pearson with two games to go and the Hornets losing on the last day (if they had won, Villa’s Hammers point wouldn’t have been enough).
From a Villa point-of-view, any rational supporter who appreciates Grealish’s talent, knows in terms of the core reasons Villa stayed up in the restart period, it was Dean Smith and the team’s reorganised defensive structure, plus our Egyptian son’s key goals, that got us over the line.
Remember, Grealish had gone 11 games without an assist or goal, which overlapped deep into the restart period.
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Positive Change for Grealish
As the podcast show suggested, in terms of England selection last season, considering his competition for a place, Grealish had to be doing the kind of things on the pitch that would impress in any top team, week-in, week-out – i.e. being a match winner against the best and doing it constantly – and, he needed better players alongside him to free him up to do exactly that.
Fast-forward to this season… enter Ross Barkley and Ollie Watkins, and cue Grealish’s ‘the real deal’ performances against Liverpool and Arsenal, that had even other club’s supporters purring, after they had previously been ardent trollers of the Villa captain.
We’ve still only just seen the start of the real top level evolution of Grealish, and it would be surprising if he’s not in double figures for both goals and assists this season.
Now, it’s completely warranted for Grealish to be in the mix as an England starter, and his upcoming games for Villa this season should increasingly cement that notion. Hopefully, it’ll even get to the point where Southgate starts deliberating, if his current system doesn’t accommodate the Villa captain to his full potential, which one will?
While Southgate’s words above, proved he had a sense of humour to the Grealish situation, what he then went on to say about his considerations in actually picking the player, echoed what MOMS had maintained about the situation months ago.
“We knew he was a good player, but not in the form that maybe people were suggesting when you compared to how many goals Mason Greenwood had scored and the way Phil Foden had played at the end of lockdown, and we knew what Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling had produced,” reasoned Southgate.
“So, now he’s now four goals in seven matches, plus one cleared off the line against Leeds, one cleared off the line against Arsenal, creating chances – the goal he created the other day where he’s holding Hector Bellerin off and able to find the pass while running at full tilt.
“I think we’ve challenged him on a couple of parts of his game and his response to that has been brilliant.”
It’s fair comment, and suggests Southgate’s role as the pantomime villain in Villa fanboy’s social media hatchet performance is a tad unfair.
Whatever your views on Southgate though, the good news is Grealish has finally transcended the adulation of the Villa bubble to prove to the rest of footballing world, that his rise to elite level prominence now is very much for real.