Kevin De Bruyne believes the criticism of Jack Grealish on and off the pitch has been unfair and driven by the fact he’s under more scrutiny because of his nationality.
Grealish became City’s record signing in the summer of 2021 and also the first English player to move for a £100million fee, but his Etihad career hasn’t been plain sailing so far.
He contributed just six goals and four assists in 38 games last season and his opening goal at Wolves on Saturday was the first time he’d been involved in a goal for the Blues this season.
Grealish came in for criticism after a lacklustre display against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday night and he’s also been in the spotlight off the pitch this summer, with tabloid interest in his extracurricular activities and pictures emerging of him partying in Ibiza.
He’s also been pictured on nights out in Manchester and his status as the most expensive English player of all time has raised the fascination in someone who was a fan favourite for his country during last summer’s European Championship.
De Bruyne believes that focus is driven entirely by his nationality and told critics to forget about what Grealish does away from the pitch.
“Yes. It is not about football. Outside of football, the focus is more on them [English players],” he said.
“I understand because they are English and people tend to look more what is happening. I feel like foreign players, for instance if you have a night out, we don’t really get checked that often.
Whereas I feel if an English player goes out, it is always in the media somewhere. I think people are taking this on board also.
“What he does in his private life he does, nobody should care, but people do.”
Grealish was handed a third successive start in the 3-0 win at Wolves and having shone in the rout of Sevilla in the Champions League, he was impressive again at Molineux.
Pep Guardiola launched a strong defence of the player on Friday and De Bruyne has called for more patience, pointing out the move to Manchester was the first time Grealish had left his home city of Birmingham.
“I don’t feel people tend to care about persons anyway. They try to see the facts and talk about the money and talk about all the rest around it,” he said.
“I don’t feel anybody necessarily thinks about how he felt moving away for the first time and people think it is always easy to do that. But there are a lot of obstacles coming around with moving clubs and houses and whatever.
“You know obviously he needed some time to settle in but he is fine. Be patient, I am not too worried.”
De Bruyne insists he hasn’t seen a change in Grealish’s demeanour despite the criticism, pointing out he looked sharp in pre-season but lost some momentum after sustaining an ankle injury in the second Premier League game against Bournemouth.
After his goal on Saturday, Grealish has now struck seven times in 44 games for City, with a further four assists. He admitted after the game those numbers weren’t good enough, but De Bruyne pointed out Grealish’s success as part of a team structure, rather than focusing on individual numbers, as well as the change in expectations since swapping Villa for City.
“We work in a day and age where everyone talks just about goals and assists but there is a lot that goes on in football and we win a lot of games,” he said.
“If we win a lot of games, it means everyone is doing a good job otherwise it is not possible. I think for him playing forward and to start this way today makes it a little bit easier.
“He has been struggling with some pain and some injuries this year but he has been looking sharp and playing good for me.
“It comes with being a very good player. If you set certain standards for yourself, everyone is going to measure you to these standards.
“With all due respect he was at Villa before and if you lose a game sometimes it is not the end of the world. But if we lose a game it is different.
“We have to perform every week and win games. That