When MOMS met Villa boss Steve Bruce earlier this week I joked to him that sometimes I have to explain to Villa fans aged 20 and under what ‘football’ actually is.
You have to feel sorry for younger generations of Villa supporters who have only experienced the dross that has been served up over the last six years or so and have worshipped false gods in claret and blue shirts. At the same time, you have to marvel at the extent that modern day media hype and marketing can actually mask so much mediocrity.
Not Shaw About Grealish
Take Jack Grealish. Has a Villa player received so much national press attention for so little on-field achievement? A promising player, yes. A world beater at the moment? Non.
So what about these current newspaper rumours of him potentially joining Guzan, Traore and Gestede at Villaboro Mk II?
Whether there is something in them or not, push ‘one of our own’ sentiment aside, filter out the hype, he’s very much dispensable.
Grealish turns 22 this year, the age that Gary Shaw’s career was over in earnest due to a knee injury (he was never the same afterwards). By that time, Shaw had won the league, the European Cup and the Super Cup. He’d also been crowned the PFA Young Player of the Year to boot. He scored 18 goals in the title-winning season that he started as a teenager.
Imagine the hype now that would surround such achievements!
Back then, Diego Maradona got his agent to ask for Shaw’s shirt after Villa beat Barcelona in the Super Cup. Nowadays, Shaw would probably be playing in a Barcelona shirt alongside Messi.
If Villa were selling a player that had achieved that, I’d get my pitchfork and march down to Villa Park to protest. Grealish leaving? I wouldn’t even get out of bed for that.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer Grealish to stay, not because of what he has done, but the potential he could still offer. And if he were to shine bright, then what better place for both player and fans alike than Villa Park.
The January window reinforcements in midfield will mean Grealish will seriously have to up his game to be a first team starter now. The signing in particular of Birkir Bjarnason – who has superior work rate and defensive qualities to Grealish – certainly puts pressure on in that left-hand side role. Meanwhile, Grealish’s favoured more central attacking-midfield is under threat to Bruce’s ultimate wish of playing two up top in the Championship.
Suddenly, it’s hard to see where Grealish does fit in beyond offering an alternative off the bench. For Grealish to be a player that makes his mark at Villa, he has to now play like the player some fans think he will become. You can only wait in expectation for so long.
Guilty of sometimes slowing the play down and taking a touch too many, having consistency issues and also defensive deficiencies, if played out wide (offering little cover for Amavi), Grealish could be considered by some as a budding luxury player.
But is that just a product of being in a rather poor footballing team?
Maybe the addition of Lansbury and Hourihane can make him more effective, but he needs to be more decisive in his play. The England U-21 has shown some signs of impacting the result of games (his goal versus Wigan), but more often than not, his presence is rarely felt.
Bruce prefers a slightly more blue collar ethic and has already publicly bemoaned Grealish waving his arms around at decisions and not staying focused on his own game.
If Middlesborough or any other club offered big money (or what about a loan to the end of the season swap with Jordan Rhodes?), I think Bruce would prefer to take it and invest it on more tangible assets. After all, in the context of Villa, it wouldn’t be like losing proven players like David Platt, Dwight Yorke, Ashley Young, Gareth Barry, James Milner, or Christian Benteke, who all made massive contributions to the team.
Potential only gets you so far and Villa need to start living in the present with him. After all, in the case of Gary Shaw, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. And when you compare Grealish’s development to Shaw’s or even Ashley Young’s, when he came to Villa aged 21, he’s off the pace to be considered anything special.
Still, there is a role for him for sure, but he needs to step up, because hype isn’t a currency that Bruce can afford to trade in.