Jack Grealish is being shown how to save Man City career by unlikely teammate – Joe Bray
Jack Grealish isn’t the first player to take a season to bed in at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, and he won’t be the last.
When he first signed, Guardiola insisted that Grealish was signed for ‘five or six years’ rather than for an instant impact. Guardiola has since challenged his £100m man to start showing the goals and assists he was providing at Aston Villa. Guardiola has since declared himself happy with Grealish’s performances and returns for other important metrics, but there’s no doubting that he would have wanted to make more of an impact in his first year at City.
When the Blues go to the Bernabeu this week, Grealish will almost certainly be on the bench, as he has been for every knockout game in the Champions League so far. He’s firmly in the group of backup players, drafted in to give the first-choice XI some rest.
It might not be where Grealish saw his place in the squad when he signed his British record deal and picked up the no.10 shirt at City, but he can take consolation from the fact that plenty of others have taken a year to adapt.
Joao Cancelo was close to leaving City after a slow start, while Bernardo Silva took time to reach his lofty heights. Even then, when moving from an attacking wide role to a more defensive, all-action midfield role, Bernardo had a quieter year before kicking on again. Ferran Torres played a similar role in the squad to Grealish in his first year when he learned Guardiola’s system and figured out a position for himself, while Rodri didn’t have half the influence he currently enjoys until his second season. The same goes for Leroy Sane, too.
Even players already at City before Guardiola’s arrival needed time to adapt. Sergio Aguero has been public about his differences with the manager in terms of playing style, while Vincent Kompany is arguably another to fall into the same category of a player who must adapt to the manager, rather than the other way around.
Simply put, if Grealish is still underwhelming this time next year, then there is cause for concern. The calmness from City and from Grealish himself show they know this season is all part of the process. And Grealish can look to a teammate in his second season currently as proof that fortunes will improve if he sticks at it.
Nathan Ake is enjoying his best spell as a City player, and taking his chance when others are injured. His goal at Elland Road may have been one of the most popular strikes of the season, as Ake seems a likeable player and a key part of the squad. As Guardiola has admitted, he’s been unlucky not to play more.
There are similarities between Ake and Grealish. Both made a significant step up from a lower-Premier League club with different expectations and different styles. They went from being a main man in a system to one of many cogs in the City machine. City arguably paid over the odds for both, but did so owing to both having release clauses and the Blues needing someone in that position.
Ake couldn’t replicate the impact of fellow 2020 signing Ruben Dias, as City went from having a season with one quality centre-back option due to injury and form issues, to having four. Ake was back of the queue, then got injured, and only really got his chances at the end of the season as Guardiola made changes in the Premier League.
It’s similar to the position Grealish now finds himself. He might want to be playing the finals and the games that secure the Premier League, but he’s got to just make the most of any game he gets. Then, next season, he’ll eventually get his chance, like Ake has done.
It feels strange to compare a centre-back with a number ten, but Guardiola wants every one of his players to have the same attitude. Grealish has shown his willingness to put the team first – even admitting he should shoot more rather than passing to players in better positions.
If he buys into this supporting role over the next month, then follow Ake’s unlikely example over the coming months, his route to kick-starting his City career looks positive.