Criticism of Southgate is 'very harsh'

Grealish says manager is underrated despite leading team to Euro final, World Cup semis

MILAN - Jack Grealish has backed England manager Gareth Southgate after the 52-year-old endured "very harsh" criticism following the Three Lions' disappointing results in the summer.

While the Nov 20-Dec 18 World Cup in Qatar is England's focus, Southgate's side are in danger of relegation from their Nations League group heading into Friday's match against Italy.

They failed to win any of their four Nations League games in June, a dismal run that featured a pair of embarrassing defeats by Hungary, who scored five goals in total without reply.

That triggered a deluge of criticism for Southgate, but Manchester City and England winger Grealish believes that it was unfair to a manager who led his country to the Euro 2020 final and the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.

"We reached the final last year and then the Hungary game (we lost 1-0) at the start of the last camp. I think before that the last time we'd lost a game over 90 minutes was maybe Belgium in November 2020 or something," he said.

"So I think it is very harsh, especially as you saw at the World Cup and the Euro how well the team had done and the manager himself. I thought it was obviously harsh but sometimes, that's what you get if you're English. I've certainly had my fair share!"

Grealish knows all about public criticism after his erratic form for Premier League champions City since his British record £100 million (S$160 million) move from Aston Villa in August 2021.

The 27-year-old scored his first goal this season in last Saturday's 3-0 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers, with City teammate Kevin de Bruyne suggesting afterwards that English players are unfairly targeted for abuse.

"I can obviously see where he's coming from a little bit. But that's just the way it is in this country, especially if you're myself, playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, who are winning trophies every single year," Grealish said.

"And obviously when I have the price tag on my head that I have, people are going to want to talk.

"It's just something that I need to (get on with). I keep going back to it, saying embrace it and it's just part and parcel, really. But, yeah, I do see where he's coming from a little bit."

Meanwhile, Wales captain Gareth Bale has said he is on a "good path" towards full fitness ahead of the World Cup, despite not completing a full game since joining Major League Soccer side Los Angeles FC in June.

The 33-year-old forward has struggled with injury in his last few seasons and has made only two starts in his 11 appearances for LAFC, scoring twice.

Wales, who will play in their first World Cup since 1958, begin their Group B campaign against the United States on Nov 21 before taking on England and Iran in the same group, and Bale expects his fitness to have improved significantly by then.

"I'll be a lot fitter. I haven't played 90 minutes yet, which is what we're building up to and getting the training loaded," he said on Wednesday.

"We're on a good path to where I want to be. I want to try and play 90 minutes as much as I can, but I understand that I need to build up to get to that level. I haven't done it an awful lot in the last few years."

Scotland, who failed to qualify for Qatar, boosted their bid for Nations League promotion and gained a measure of revenge over Ukraine with a 3-0 win in Glasgow on Wednesday.

AFP, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2022, with the headline Criticism of Southgate is 'very harsh'. Subscribe