Jack Grealish certainly thinks he’s a £100million player. ‘Yeah. Maybe,’ he said last September when asked if he always believed the monumental release clause Aston Villa put into his contract would be met.
Others are less certain. The former Liverpool player Dirk Kuyt thinks the price tag is three times Grealish’s actual value. Celebrity Manchester City fan Liam Gallagher thinks that price puts Phil Foden’s worth at £500million.
The evidence of the Bernabeu suggests that they were right. It is unimaginable that Mo Salah, Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry, Michael Owen or any other forward in the same bracket as Grealish would have failed to take one of his two golden chances to put Real Madrid out of sight.
Jack Grealish squandered to golden chances to put Man City in the Champions League final
That £100million is supposed to buy you ice cold delivery in the white heat of split-second opportunity. But two chances came, the world held its breath and two chances went, when converting them is really not that complicated for the best of the best.
‘I just did it,’ Owen once said of his most prodigious years. ‘It didn’t matter who I was playing against. I had an unshakeable self-belief. Nothing bothered me.’
Grealish just doesn’t seem to have that kind of certainty. Of course, his razzle-dazzle style of football does not lend itself to the automated, metronomic way Guardiola’s give-and-go types propel the ball around.
But neither does he seem to have the crystal clear convictions about his game that he always had at Aston Villa, where everything revolved around him.
His minutes per goal or assist ratio this season – 317.6 – compares with Ilkay Gundogan’s 188.1 and is even inferior to that of Cole Palmer, a 19-year-old, and Fernandinho, a 37-year-old who barely plays.
Grealish’s shot was athletically cleared off the line by Real full back Ferland Mendy (left) late on
The clearance just missed Phil Foden, who was inches away from tapping it into an empty net
It’s hard to avoid the sense that there’s some imposter syndrome at play here. Despite, that raffish exterior and the rather too cultivated hair, Grealish’s discussion in several recent interviews has given the impression of someone trying desperately to fit in among the superstars he doesn’t entirely consider himself to be one of.
He’s revealed how his persistent wish to provide assists for his team-mates had left some of them actually asking why on earth he didn’t shoot more, when they’d seen him score on the training ground. ‘I shoot way less than anyone,’ he said a few weeks ago. Yes, perhaps he should be more selfish, he agreed.
He’s always thrived on starting regularly, too. That certainty has now gone.. He was said to be devastated when he and City awoke to the enormity of their elimination, on Thursday.
Grealish often relates the aphorism which one of the academy coaches at Villa, Steve Burns, once taught him: ‘Pressure is a privilege.’
But the look in his eyes when he gave those interviews suggested he knows that the City’s analysis staff who tell him to take heart from his ‘passes in the last third’ and ‘profitable passes within the last third’ are only telling half the story.
Thibaut Courtois then came to Real’s rescue minutes later to deny Grealish once again
The price tag is not his fault. Like all football transfer fees it’s an arbitrary number, based on how much the buying and selling clubs feel they must negotiate.
Manchester United were prepared to pay £40million for Grealish in the summer of 2020 but with their usual negotiating ineptitude never got around to tabling a bid, having bought Donny van der Beek and then been told by the Glazers that there was no more cash.
Within a day, Villa had signed Grealish to a new deal with the £100million buy-out and by November 2020 City were getting very serious. They were drawn to Grealish’s versatility as a false nine who could play across the front three.
They’d have liked to settle on £80million but out of perceived necessity paid in full. Kevin De Bruyne was struggling with injuries. Sergio Aguero was leaving. Phil Foden was still emerging. Raheem Sterling was not entirely settled.
Grealish, then, was not signed as a pure striker and what City lacked in the desperate denouement in the Bernabeu was one of those, because Phil Foden was up front.
£100million-man Grealish lacked the ice cold delivery when Pep Guardiola needed it most
The two misses will haunt him, though he did run 25 yards and beat Eder Militao to create the first of those chances, which Ferland Mendy athletically cleared off the line.
His feint took Dani Carvajal out of the equation to create the second shot, which the studs of Thibaut Courtois’ size 11 boots deflected wide. Grealish’s greatest crime? Allowing Carvajal to cross in the build-up to Rodrygo’s crucial goal.
Football is littered with the cases of players whose formative struggles have been a preface to greater things. Salah struggled at Chelsea and was sold to Roma.
Manchester United had to tell Cristiano Ronaldo to cut out the relentless, tedious trickery.