‘He was living the dream, before he had created THE reality’
Next season will potentially be the pivotal one in Jack Grealish’s career. Often mentioned by his teammates as the most talented technical player in the squad in training, he is in dire danger of joining the likes of Ravel Morrison, Michael Branch and Billy Kenny in the ever-growing ‘hall of shame’ for England’s greatest wasted talents.
In many ways Grealish symbolises the fate of Villa’s expensively assembled team. Will it also step up in what could be a pivotal season for the club?
Admirers From Afar
Currently, while Villa try to make up their mind on how to best play Grealish, the 21-year-old is seemingly becoming popular outside of the club.
His recent 89th minute equalizer against Brighton not only secured the Championship title for Newcastle but also helped one unnamed punter land a £60,000 windfall, as he’d staked a £10 bet on seven different teams winning seven different leagues in England and Scotland.
Flair, vision and agility have previously been cited as Grealish’s strengths, and admittedly, flashes of such traits have been shown against the lesser opposition offered in the Championship. Even if Villa haven’t been playing collectively as a team, on the whole, for all his ‘strengths’, Grealish still appears utterly oblivious to the concept of at least performing in the name of self-interest, when all is blatantly lost at a directionless club.
Grealish did, after all, share a dressing room with Idrissa Gana Gueye throughout 2015/16. While all around him was chaos and despair, the Senegalese midfielder demonstrated a stellar individual work rate and attitude.
Gueye’s reward was a move to a promising Everton side, and he is now reflecting on an excellent first season at Goodison Park. This development should have provided Grealish with some very real food for thought throughout 2016/17 – but, evidently, it has not.
In the upcoming season, Villa must get promoted and Steve Bruce will be taking no prisoners, with his own reputation very much on the line. The total focus on promotion this time, should make Villa be a good bet for promotion with the best offers involving money back, such as receiving £40 in matched bets for a £10 stake, good value for Villa fans.
There’s a lot at stake for the Villa board, with the Financial Fair Play rules and diminishing parachute payments making it harder and harder for Villa to return to the Premier League, as every season passes. Now is not the time for sentiment and whether a player is ‘one of our own’ is neither here or there. Bruce will aim for promotion with or without Grealish’s contributions from midfield.
In fairness to Grealish, he did breakthrough during the club’s darkest hour, but he’s now 21-years-old, and the time of telling is quickly passing. However, one must also question whether or not the influence of manager Steve Bruce is a mitigating circumstance for him.
The Villa boss’s defence-first mentality has limited the creativity and attacking play of Villa, thus potentially stifling Grealish’s natural game and contribution. With a lack of runners from midfield or inter changing of passing in the final third, Grealish’s greatest contributions have come from moments of individual excellence (similar to Jonathan Kodjia).
Still, you could argue that Bruce is right in expecting more, despite this.
“We all know he can score a goal. Really, somebody with Jack’s ability, he should be in double figures and that’s where I stand with that,” Bruce conceded in his post-match press conference after the 1-1 draw with Brighton.
“There’s times when you cannot keep talking about development and potential. He’s now played enough games and knows what it is. But there’s always a ‘but’ and he’s got to get rid of that ‘but’. It’s as simple as that.”
The biggest question when it comes to Grealish seems to be his mentality and focus. The hype that the national press has afforded him before he even broke into the Villa team proper had seemingly gone to his head, before he proved anything.
He was living the dream, before he had created the reality.
MOMS doesn’t really buy into the pressures of being ‘the local lad’, as that only aids and helps a player in a positive way in making fans more forgiving of their mistakes. You only have to look at the nine lives of Gabby Agbonlahor for proof of that.
For his part, Bruce is insistent that the problem lies with Grealish’s attitude: “It’s a mentality thing. He has to learn with it and grow with it. He’s the local favourite but he has to grasp the situation and produce the real deal and that’s the most important thing for Jack.”
It was certainly hinted at in the last January window that Villa would not be shy to selling Grealish if the price was right. Villa fans frustration with the player has grown, so even they would be increasingly accepting of the idea.
The thing about Grealish though is where would or could he move, if it didn’t work out at Villa? Is it a case like Agbonlahor, that Villa is as good as it gets for the player? So they dig their heels in and stick around…
Grealish wouldn’t be too keen on moving elsewhere in the Championship, since Villa are the biggest club in the division. In terms of the Premier League, maybe a team like Bournemouth, preparing for a remarkable third Premier League season under future international management contender Eddie Howe, would be an option? But would Grealish offer them the work rate they require, to fit in?
Would Grealish go abroad? He would certainly be better suited to the French or Spanish league, but until he grows up a bit, it’s very doubtful he could make the cultural transition.
The short-term solution to Grealish’s career is simple. Step-up in a Villa shirt, make himself undroppable even in a Steve Bruce team, and fire Villa into the Premier League.
Like Villa’s promotion push next season… Do or do not. There is no try.
Listen to all the other dilemmas facing Villa & Bruce over the summer in the new My Old Man Said podcast episode below: