Jack Grealish’s position in the Three Lions squad is one of the most widely discussed topics in English football at the moment.
The Aston Villa star possesses a level of fleet-footed dynamism that is unrivalled within the squad and his form during the 2020/21 campaign had the nation eating out of his hands.
However, the wealth of options available to Gareth Southgate in attacking midfield positions has created a conundrum in which there is seemingly no right answer.
Regardless of who Southgate picks, there will be a contingent of England supporters left underwhelmed by his decision.
But what exactly is stopping Southgate from opting for Grealish over the likes of Phil Foden, Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling?
Well, a recent report from The Athletic has aimed to shed light on the situation ahead of the final Group D game against the Czech Republic at Wembley.
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The report lists five key points that are influencing the relationship between Southgate and Grealish.
Firstly, the England manager is a fan of Grealish but doesn’t totally trust him to do what he wants on the pitch. Rather pertinently, both have differing ideas on Grealish’s best position while the player himself suspects his party-boy image could be counting against him.
It’s also been reported that Grealish had a poor relationship with England U21 manager Aidy Boothroyd, who was a close ally of Southgate’s during their time together in the England setup.
The final reason concerns Southgate’s overall handling of the squad, with certain players believing he has favourites in the dressing room – including Jordan Henderson, Mount and Sterling.
That is not to say that the relationship between the pair is strained.
“Any talk that Gareth has an issue with Jack, or doesn’t like him as a person, couldn’t be further from the truth,” said a source close to the squad.
The disagreements over his best position and his image, which does have undertones of a bygone era that Southgate has made clear strides to eradicate, could well be counting against Grealish as he bids to establish himself in the XI.
More specifically, the England boss does have concerns about Grealish’s work-rate off the ball in a manner akin to Mount, and there is a feeling among the squad members that he fails to get a starting berth for that reason.
But the fresh information reported by The Athletic in regard to Grealish’s fractured relationship with Boothroyd is also highly significant.
It all started when Grealish turned up late for a team meeting in 2017 and was subsequently dropped for the next game against Denmark, and culminated when Boothroyd sent Mason Holgate on as his final substitute as their semi-final clash with Germany at the U21 European Championships edged towards its conclusion.
England ended each training session with a penalty shootout during the tournament and Grealish scored all 16 of his spot kicks in 16 days in the build-up to the competition.
Despite that, he was left on the bench and it is suspected that Southgate would have heard Boothroyd’s version of events of Grealish’s time with the youth setup.
That negative impression may well have stuck with the 50-year-old and continue to influence his decision making to this day.
As the clamour for his inclusion continues to rise, though, Southgate will find it increasingly difficult to leave Grealish out of the starting XI.