Jack Grealish’s difficult season: Guardiola’s frustration, struggles in training and his future

Jack Grealish held talks with Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola ahead of the FA Cup final where he was told to recapture his best form ahead of next season.

Grealish, according to a source close to the player, who like all those spoken to for this article asked to be kept anonymous to protect relationships, accepts that his 2023-24 campaign was effectively a write-off. He was beset by a string of injuries and off-field trauma that added to his personal battles with moving on from City’s treble last year.

Guardiola had aired his concerns with Grealish several times throughout the 2023-24 campaign. Matters came to a head at the start of May after the City players were given three days off to relax between important games against Wolves and Fulham.

When they reported back for training, Guardiola felt that Grealish’s efforts were well below expectations. The winger was subsequently left out of the squad for the Fulham game, with Guardiola publicly putting it down to illness.

Grealish did not play a minute of the four matches after that and now must turn his attention to securing a place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad, having been named in the 33-man provisional squad.

It is not yet certain whether he will make the final cut, however, due to his disappointing campaign at City where he started just 10 Premier League matches. Southgate has historically only used Grealish sparingly at tournaments.

Guardiola has been frustrated with Grealish at points this season (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Having worked his way back into the team for big games against Real Madrid and Chelsea in April, Grealish quickly fell out of favour again, starting just one of the final seven matches.

Guardiola and Grealish have had several conversations about his form and his mood during the season, the last of which came last week as the two discussed a route forward beyond the summer. Although Guardiola has been frustrated, sometimes furious, with Grealish this season, he appreciates the player and person that he is at his best. The City manager has challenged Grealish to rediscover his best levels, on and off the pitch.

A potential summer transfer has even been reported in some quarters, with Tottenham and Bayern Munich linked. Sources close to the player insist that there is no chance of a departure from the Etihad Stadium in the coming months, although that is partly due to how much Grealish would cost.

“I don’t know what is going to happen but I know some players have to take a decision on whether they stay with us, and some players might come,” Guardiola said following the FA Cup final. “My sporting director says everything is fine for next year.”

That is more relevant to goalkeeper Ederson, who had been set to sign a new contract in the spring but is now weighing up an offer from Al Ittihad of the Saudi Pro League. City are determined for the Brazilian to stay and a new contract remains on the table.

Kevin De Bruyne’s future is also to be decided, with his camp having reached out to MLS side San Diego. Bernardo Silva could leave for a new challenge — an idea that has also been mooted in the last three summers.

As far as Grealish is concerned, Guardiola was more direct while talking at Wembley on Saturday.

“He will be back,” he said. “He’s struggled this season and Jeremy (Doku) has made an incredible step forward as everyone has seen in the last games. But Jack will be back at the level of last season, I’m pretty sure.”

While celebrating the Premier League title victory on the final day, Grealish gave an interview to Sky Sports in which he said, “I don’t feel like I’ve performed well this season at all.” He praised Guardiola’s role in helping him through difficult moments at several different points.

Grealish reacting after his injury against Luton (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

“He’s an unbelievable guy,” he said of the manager. “I’ve had times where I’ve struggled off the pitch, you know, I’ll openly say that and he’s been there for me so much, I can only thank him. He’s a brilliant manager on the pitch but when I’ve been in his office he’s helped me.”

Grealish’s struggles can broadly be put down to three main factors: first, Guardiola had felt very early on that he was one of a few City players whose levels had dropped after City won the treble last season.

The Spaniard had accepted that his players would suffer some kind of hangover as a result of their historic achievements, but he felt that Grealish needed more attention than most and that was something that lingered all season.

Grealish also struggled with different injuries that kept him on the sidelines, starting with what those close to the winger describe as a “horror” leg injury in September.

“Our doctor said it’s the worst dead leg he’s ever seen, by a mile,” Grealish said at the time. “If you get a dead leg and you have the haematoma (akin to a bruise due to bleeding outside the blood vessels), a bad one, it’s around six centimetres. Mine was like 20 centimetres.”

That injury meant he started just one game in six weeks, at a time when Doku, a summer arrival from Rennes, was making an impressive impact on the left wing. Grealish, according to those close to him, can get distracted when injured.

It is believed that Grealish was also deeply affected by a break-in at his house at the end of December. He was playing for City but his girlfriend and entire family were home. They had recently moved in and the psychological impact on everybody involved affected Grealish, as the head of the family, to the extent that he was said to be distracted for at least a month afterwards.

He missed four games in a row during that period, which is said to have visibly frustrated him in training, and he then suffered another injury 20 minutes into a Champions League game against Copenhagen in February.

“I didn’t speak with the doctor but it looks muscular with Jack, which is a pity because in the last few days, his attitude in training was much, much better,” Guardiola said, alluding to times when his attitude was not always so good.

A few days later he added: “If one player gets injured after 10, 15 minutes it’s because still they were not fit, fit at all.” Ahead of Grealish’s return a few weeks later he provided another cryptic suggestion when asked if the England man needs time to get himself fit.

“Why last season was it all the time up and this season it’s up and down? There is a reason. You cannot wait to be given three or four games to be fit. And the other 17 players, the 10 who don’t play? They deserve not to play? Of course they deserve it but that is not how it works.”

Grealish showing his frustration in training (Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

Grealish was desperate to get back into the team so he returned to the line-up just two weeks later, which sources close to him accept was too soon; he was forced off once again during the first half of the FA Cup tie with Luton.

By that point in the season, the three chief factors came together: Grealish, who had slackened off more than most of his team-mates as a result of the treble, and who was then affected by the break-in at his house, was not physically able to contribute on the pitch.

As Guardiola alluded to during press conferences, he and his coaches felt that, during Grealish’s time on the sidelines, he spent a lot of time out with friends but without the dedication to looking after his body in training to ensure that he was ready to play at a high level.

“It’s been a difficult season for me personally, after the highs of last year,” Grealish said in April. “I spoke to the manager a lot and he’s been so good with me. I owe him a little bit and want to repay him now with my performances and the team as well.”

While Guardiola and City have been supportive during the season, tensions did boil over earlier in May when he struggled in training ahead of the Fulham game, at a time when City needed to win every match to become Premier League champions again.

Despite that, both Grealish and City are planning for another season together.

The hard work will have to start well before the squad fly to the United States for pre-season preparations in July, however. England will play two friendlies against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iceland next week that are likely to have a big say in how Grealish’s summer will pan out.

(Top photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

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