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A fascinating new report has lifted the lid on the complicated relationship between Gareth Southgate and the player many feel deserves a starting place in the England XI: Jack Grealish.
The Aston Villa ace was the star of both of England's Euro 2020 warm-up friendlies but was unused in the Three Lions' first match against Croatia and only came on as a substitute in the draw with Scotland.
A report in The Athletic has delved into their relationship with sources close to the situation indicating that Southgate doesn't trust Grealish, that England players believe Southgate has dressing room favourites, while Grealish believes his "partying image" counts against him.
Southgate has been in charge of England since 2016, so the fact Grealish only got his senior debut nine months ago - just before his 25th birthday - is a sign Southgate has been reluctant to use the gifted attacker in the past.
Part of that is said to be that Grealish allegedly had a poor relationship with the former England Under-21 coach Aidy Boothroyd - who Southgate trusted and considered a close ally - during Grealish's time as an U21 player.
The report claims that Grealish and Boothroyd were "barely on speaking teams at the end of one tournament," which counted against the Villa star when it came to stepping up to senior level.
Concerns over Grealish's work rate off the ball is also said to be behind Southgate's reluctance to start the player in crucial matches.
Others in the England camp believe that Southgate simply has his favourites (as many managers do) and Grealish is not among them. The England boss has shown great loyalty to the likes of Kieran Trippier and Raheem Sterling, who played in England's run to the World Cup semi-final in 2018.
Jordan Henderson, selected for Euro 2020 despite only just recovering from a long-term injury, and Mason Mount are said to be others Southgate strongly favours.
However it is not all negative, as Southgate is believed to value Grealish as a likeable and popular member of his group. The England boss also believes that Grealish is a highly talented player.
But the ex-Middlesbrough manager doesn't always believe that Grealish can or will closely follow tactical plans and has been apparently reluctant to talk up the player in front of the media.
In October 2020, when asked about Grealish's performance in a 3-0 England win over Wales, Southgate quickly turned the topic to Mount and praised the Chelsea midfielder's "excellent impact on the game". It did not go unnoticed by those watching.
Whether Southgate starts Grealish in the final Group D game against the Czech Republic on Tuesday is a big test of whether the manager truly trusts the player. But it's clear their bond is anything but simple if The Athletic's in-depth report is accurate.
All imagery: PA Images
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