It feels like just yesterday we were talking about a young kid coming through the academy, who was incredibly talented but also very immature. Photos were shared far and wide of Jack Grealish, laying in the road in Tenerife with a packet of fags, after a night out. Then there was the laughing gas incidents. This was behaviour typical of a lad his age, but unfortunately, as a professional footballer, he was subject to the scrutiny we are all glad we never had to face.
Fast forward 2 years, and that same young player is celebrating scoring the winner at St Andrews, as captain of his boyhood club, on the self proclaimed “best day of [his] life”. Not only that, but he also laughed off being assaulted by a Birmingham fan (who we all know the name of, but I will not repeat as he doesn’t deserve any more publicity), when many of his teammates lost their cool. Put in his situation, I guarantee myself and many of us Villa fans would have reacted far less professionally. His reaction was a credit to how far he has come as a player, and a man.
At the beginning of last season, when Steve Bruce said he was planning to play Jack Grealish at number 10, and build the team around him, I was sceptical. I still thought he was a little raw, too young and certainly not ready for that kind of responsibility. I was way off the mark, and I have never been so happy to be proven wrong. Part of his maturing must be attributed to John Terry, who took Jack under his wing and gave him the positive influence he was severely lacking in Agbonlahor and Micah Richards. And now, under Smith, he continues to blossom.
When Smith named Grealish captain on his return from injury, many questioned whether it was the right decision. Now we can be in no doubt. He has taken the responsibility of captain incredibly well, and it seems to have pushed his performances up yet another level.
With talk of long term captaincies conflicted with rumours of his likely departure, his future at Aston Villa is far from certain. Unusually in recent years, this is however for the right reasons. He is too good for this league, and the prospect of an England call up may be enough to lure him away. If this was to happen, I for one could never begrudge him that. His love for the club is plain to see.
While I hope he stays-and becomes a legend at Villa Park- I will not have any ill feeling towards him if he goes. If we don’t go up, it would be the best move for him and his career progression. He has made no secret of his desire to be playing at the top level, and quite rightly so, but I hope and pray that this is with Aston Villa.
Jack Grealish, he’s one of our own.
Jack Grealish Artwork by @JJ_CustomPrints