Jack Grealish has been told he missed the chance to “change everything” for his Manchester City career after spurning two glorious chances to rubber stamp his side’s ticket to the Champions League final.
Signed for £100million from Aston Villa last summer, Grealish was expected to be the final piece in the jigsaw which finally saw them lift Europe’s biggest prize. But the mercurial forward has struggled to find his best form in a City shirt and has found himself in and out of Pep Guardiola’s starting line-up.
In both legs of their semi-final clash with Real Madrid, Grealish was named among the substitutes with a forward line of Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez preferred. Having failed to even get on the pitch during the pulsating 4-3 encounter at the Etihad, Guardiola turned towards the 26-year-old in the return leg at the Bernabeu.
Grealish was introduced five minutes after Mahrez had scored the goal which to all intents and purposes looked like ending the tie. The Premier League champions held a two-goal aggregate lead over Madrid with the hosts struggling to make any attacking impression.
And the former Villa skipper almost had an immediate impact as he glided down the left wing and went past Thibaut Courtois, only to see his goal-bound effort cleared off the line by a sprawling Ferland Mendy. Just minutes later he came even closer to scoring a decisive second goal on the night, only for Courtois to somehow poke a foot out and turn the ball wide.
Despite failing to establish a three-goal buffer, City were still overwhelming favourites to secure passage to the Paris final, keeping their advantage until the final two minutes of normal time. However, with all hope seemingly lost for Madrid, Rodrygo scored twice in 89 seconds to miraculously send the tie to extra time.
And in the extra period of 30 minutes, Karim Benzema scored from the spot to put the LaLiga champions in front for the first time in the tie. Madrid were then able to hold onto that lead, booking a repeat of the 2018 final with Liverpool.
Grealish has just five goals and three assists in an underwhelming first season at City, but Rio Ferdinand claimed his whole trajectory at the club could have been altered, had he found the net in the Spanish capital.
“That changes everything for Jack Grealish in a Manchester City shirt,” Ferdinand said. “Whether you think he’s been good or bad or average, that would’ve changed everything.”
Speaking after the defeat, Guardiola was left to rue the two missed chances as his long wait for a second Champions League crown goes on. “We had two very clear chances before the first goal, especially with Jack. In that moment we didn’t have the feeling that we were in trouble.
“They score a goal at the end – this has happened many times in their history – they put a lot of players in the box and they found a goal.”