England need an X-factor – and Jack Grealish is more likely to provide it than Mason Mount – Andy Dunn
Had Mason Mount scanned social media ahead of kick-off, he would have known he was facing a fight like few others on the field.
The two-word phrase trending was NO GREALISH. Say it in a tone of disbelief, of incredulity, and you get the gist.
By the court of public opinion, Gareth Southgate was convicted before the evidence unfolded.
Convicted of conservatism, of favouritism, of bias, of wilfully ignoring the maverick talent of Jack Grealish in favour of a player steeped in FA education, a product of Southgate’s beloved St George’s Park.
Never mind it was not a simple like-for-like debate, not a simple either/or.
Don’t forget, Grealish can play in a range of positions.
But the bottom line is Mount is ahead of Grealish in Southgate’s pecking order.
Quite a few are ahead of Grealish in Southgate’s pecking order.
The England manager’s grand plans, of course, were shredded by hapless Harry Maguire.
It goes without saying Maguire had an utterly abysmal half hour.
And the added significance of his sending-off was that it was a case of Southgate’s loyalty backfiring.
As a manager, Southgate is far from alone in trusting characters he believes in and admires, regardless of their form.
Southgate would have felt guilty about having to leave Maguire out of last month’s squad. He clearly considers Maguire to have been the victim of injustice on Mykonos and this was him backing his man.
It did not work out, either for player or manager.
But if Southgate believes in you, he believes in you and he clearly believes in Mount.
There is no doubt it does help if, unlike Grealish, you have come through the St George’s Park system.
There is no doubt it does help if, unlike Grealish, you have generally been seen as squeaky clean.
Even when Mount broke Covid-19 guidelines in the early pandemic days, it was to have a kickabout with pals.
But favouritism or not, Mount was good against the Danes.
He was sharp, incisive, beat his man more than once, forced Kasper Schmeichel into a sensational save and worked and pressed tirelessly across the line.
He linked up promisingly with his great friend Declan Rice and his club team-mate, the impressive Reece James.
Everything that Southgate would have wanted him to do.
But he does not have the impudence of Grealish. He does not have the vision of Grealish. He does not have the unpredictability of Grealish.
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Again, it should not have to be a straight choice, but finding a place for Mount and not for Grealish tells you of a cautious coach.
It tells you of a coach who values the dependable above the mercurial.
Which is all well and good and has not served Southgate too badly in his time as England manager.
But this is an England team that has been functional, in a very good way.
This is an England team that needs a creative X-factor to take it up a notch.
And as well as the Chelsea man acquitted himself here, you cannot help but think Grealish is more likely than Mount to provide it.