Why Man City's £100m man Grealish will explode in second season under Guardiola
England's poster boy's ready to silence his critics.
Second-season syndrome is not uncommon in football. After a standout campaign, some players or teams are unable to reach the same level and suffer an alarming dip in form. But, at Manchester City, it can mean the opposite. It can sometimes take at least a year working under and learning from Pep Guardiola before a player can feel entirely settled in the Catalan's meticulously drilled team. Joao Cancelo, Riyad Mahrez and Rodri all struggled to make a big impact in their debut campaigns at the club but all were crucial in last season’s successful title defence. Performance analysis coach Carles Planchart says he has verifiable data that can show how a player evolves over their first two seasons working under the Catalan coach. That’s why there’s a relaxed and confident attitude around Jack Grealish after a debut season at the Etihad Stadium when he didn’t make quite the impact he would have wanted. “I remember thinking that if I played in a team like City’s, I’d score so many goals, get so many assists but it hasn’t been like that,” the attacker told the club’s media after six goals and four assists in the season that followed his £100 million ($120m) move from Aston Villa. Guardiola has said he should ignore the statistics and insists he is happy with the contribution he made to a team that won the title and, but for a brilliant save from Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois to deny Grealish in the semi-final, would have reached a second successive Champions League final. City legend Joleon Lescott says playing for the City coach is unlike anything Grealish will have experienced before, so it's only natural that he didn't slot right into the side. “It’s about the rhythm and the understanding of the team, it’s totally new and Pep’s style is unique,” the BT Sport pundit tells JJA Sport Studio. “Numerous other coaches have tried to emulate Guardiola's approach but it's hard. I'm sure that Jack is now aware of what the requirements are, and where he needs to be.
“It's about recognising the patterns and understanding your team-mates, whichever full-back is playing behind and knowing what are their strengths. “With the greatest respect to Aston Villa, Jack was that guy who had to create the moments. Now he can react and have someone else create for him to finish them off.” The upheaval involved in Grealish moving to Manchester last year shouldn't be underestimated. He had to leave the club he joined as a six-year-old and found himself in a new city, in a new team, surrounded by superstars. A pre-season tour to the United States this July saw the first-team squad working hard to get up to speed for the new season but a relaxed environment helped them to bond with dinners and events during their time in Houston and Green Bay. Grealish struck up a blossoming bromance with new signing Erling Haaland, and assisted his first goal in a sky blue shirt in the 1-0 win over Bayern Munich, and is already close to many members of the squad, including England team-mate Phil Foden. Former England defender Lescott was in the US and was impressed by his impact on the pitch in the high-profile friendlies with Mexican side Club America and Bayern. That individual skill and flair was back at the forefront and was his belief to keep running at defenders and creating attacking situations. “I liked that in the first game he should have had three penalties – blatant penalties,” Lescott says. “But what I liked most was his temperament, he didn’t let it affect his game in terms of reacting negatively. He just said ‘Okay, well give me the ball and I’ll make things happen.' “He went through one incident and had a reaction with Club America goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and after the fans treated him like a pantomime villain, booing him. “But he rose to the challenge and it spurred him on and he's going to have to prepare for that this season, as there are going to be games when players and fans in particular will try to get under his skin.”
Grealish has always had something of a target on his back, both on and off the pitch. His ability to draw fouls often only further infuriates opponents. Away fans will always jump on any mistake made by the British football's most expensive player ever, while some pundits will see his big transfer fee as a way to justify criticism if he’s not impacting games. Lescott, though, insists that the price tag is irrelevant. “Players are not in control of transfer fees, so it's unfair to justify his performances by that transfer fee,” he says. “Whether he cost £10m or £200m, I'm sure he would have wanted to post bigger numbers – every player wants to improve regardless of the fee. “But he seems relaxed and he should be, because he's been there a year, he knows the players and the staff and, knowing Jack, he'll embrace the expectation of this season.” Guardiola has shown his confidence in Grealish by allowing Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus – potential challengers for his starting position – to join title rivals Chelsea and Arsenal, respectively. A year after his arrival at the Etihad, the belief in his huge potential has only grown rather than diminished. Don't be at all surprised, then, if Grealish becomes the next City star to explode in his second season under Pep.
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