He was supposed to be the poster boy for the new-look Manchester City. Pulling the strings from the middle of the pitch, on the wings and even as a false nine. But Jack Grealish is yet to make his mark on the team.
Being a club’s record signing can come with its own pressure. One that can weigh heavily on a player and can affect his output. There are many examples of players that failed to live up to expectations after making big money moves.
However, for a player used to carrying a team as the leader on and off the pitch, that should not be a big deal. It’s his excellence in that role and consistency at Aston Villa that convinced the City hierarchy to splash the cash.
The Englishman started very well, scoring and assisting in his first few games. But the party has since ended.
His open goal miss against Wolves added to the frustration of missing chance after chance against Watford. That has left him with just two goals in 19 games for the club. He has not found the back of the net in his last 13 outings despite having several opportunities to score.
Pep Guardiola has had to answer questions about his record signing’s performance. Expectedly, the Blues boss offered support and expressed optimism about his future.
“One day he’ll unlock, he’ll score,” Guardiola said, when asked if he was concerned about Grealish’s profligacy in front of goal.
“Jack is a player whose decision making is always really good. In the final third he needs to do it but it will come.”
City’s need for goalscorers is quite obvious as the team missed several chances against Wolves. Apart from Guardiola’s first season at the Etihad Stadium, this is the first time in four seasons that the team is lagging behind in goals scored at this point in the campaign.
Yet, it’s not for the lack of opportunities. For example, Grealish missed four good chances in the first half alone against Watford, after being handed the “false nine” role. Any specialist striker would have buried at least two of them.
Actually, even the Aston Villa version of Jack Grealish would have done that. Which begs the question: Why is Grealish struggling at City?
Here are some possible reasons
1. Yet to Fully Settle
Unless you’re a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s not easy to walk into any club and settle down right away. Even his nemesis Lionel Messi is struggling at Paris Saint-Germain after spending the better part of his career at Barcelona.
Moving from Aston Villa to Manchester City is always going to be a steep climb for any player given the standings of the two clubs at the moment. Hence, Grealish may need some time to get used to life at the Etihad.
There’s no running away from the fact. Carrying around the tag of the most expensive English player ever can weigh heavily on anyone. And then, when you come into such a high performing team of superstars and are expected to deliver the goods fast, it can be a daunting task.
The mental pressure to stand out in a team filled with world-class players simply because you are the most expensive signing can be debilitating. The media certainly exacerbate the situation with the negative headlines.
3. Lack of Confidence
The result of the foregoing is a loss of confidence. When a player who is used to scoring and assisting in double figures season in season out begins to struggle to even trap the ball, you know there’s something wrong.
Against Watford, Grealish sent a free header straight into the grateful arms of goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann. He shot too close to the goalie from a Phil Foden tee-up and wasted two more easy chances as City dominated the Hornets. It was a game the City forward could have scored a hat-trick in the first half.
Yet, he blew chance after chance that came his way. The clear problem here is a lack of confidence in front of goal.
When asked after the game whether he was disappointed that Grealish could not find the back of the net, Guardiola deflected attention away from the player. The manager gave a philosophical answer instead.
“Scoring goals is the most difficult thing in football. We are not specialists but we are playing really well,” Guardiola said.
Of course, criticism from his own manager is the last thing the player needs. That could make things even worse.
What is the Way Forward?
Grealish needs support, encouragement and patience. Like the manager has stated, he will eventually come good. He just needs to stay focused and keep working hard.