“You can’t teach what he has”, this is Jack Grealish in the words of his Aston Villa teammates.
The six-year-old boy who joined Aston Villa’s academy back in 2002 is currently leading the fight to keep his side in the Premier League come next season. Slicked back hair, muscular calves, low socks without shin guards, Grealish has been grabbing the attention of many let alone his performances on the pitch.
‘Super Jack’ as they call him, the Irish-Englishman has indeed proven to be the superhero for each Villa fan by carrying the team all on his own. He has also drawn the attention of the fashion world mainly due to his haircut and looks like a certain David Beckham used to do although he still has a long way to go in the football aspect to get compared with the English & Manchester United legend. However, his team is in a spot of bother at the moment who find themselves struggling at 19th in the English league table with the possibility of relegation looming closer after each match.
Born in Birmingham, Jack Peter Grealish came through the youth system of Aston Villa, the club he has supported all his life. His rapid development saw him make a way into Aston Villa’s first-team squad by the age of 16 although he was an unused substitute in that match. Grealish could carry the ball all alone by taking on people with ease right from a very young age which made him stand out from the other kids.
Although he was subject to most fouls on the field as he is today, he never agreed to wear shin pads during the game ignoring the advice from his coaches. He was not the quickest on the pitch but he could read the game faster than the others around him which made him special.
He started his national career with Ireland after declining the opportunity to represent England. Later in 2015, he reversed his decision by opting to play for England at the senior level. He was loaned out to League One side Notts County as a 19-year-old from where he would kick start his senior career. His brilliant performances helped the club stay up in the league and at the same time made a name for himself.
The years that followed saw the steady rise of Grealish as a footballer where he put himself amongst the first names on the team sheet. Although he played predominantly on the left-wing, his coaches identified his ability to create chances playing as a central attacking midfielder.
Thus, he was started to be played in a different role where he later excelled adding more versatility to his game. He was appointed Aston Villa’s captain in 2019 making his dream of captaining his boyhood club come true. As a Villa fan, he always had the motivation of scoring against Birmingham in the Birmingham Derby which he accomplished later that year.
The match that drew attention for an infamous incident when a Birmingham City fan punched on his neck saw his reply in the best possible fashion by scoring the winner against their fierce rivals. He later led his team to promotion to the Premier League after Aston Villa got the better of Frank Lampard managed Derby County in the Championship play-off final. He wore his half torn ‘lucky’ boots during the game whose clicks later went viral.
Grealish made a remarkable impact in the Premier League continuing his excellent form from the Championship. He is the most fouled player in the Premier League drawing over 140 fouls thus becoming the most fouled player in a single Premier League season. The key reason being his ability to take on players and carry the ball further up the pitch all alone by himself.
The club has even demanded more protection for their talisman considering the frequency at which he gets fouled, he has registered a total of 7 goals and 6 assists in the league this season thus proving to be the standout player in his side. His best goal came against Manchester United at Old Trafford this season which received the applause of many including the United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Drifting inside from the left-wing getting the better of Andreas Pereira before unleashing a shot into the top corner of the net, it is a strong contender for the goal of the season.
STYLE OF PLAY
Grealish is a versatile player who has been played predominantly on the left-wing this season although he is more than comfortable playing as an attacking midfielder or as a central midfielder. Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has mainly switched between a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-3-3 formation this season, with Grealish earlier being played as a central midfielder in these systems being given the freedom to roam and influence the game all across the pitch.
He was later deployed to play on the wings to gauge a more direct threat going forward. He is the combination of a traditional number ten and a modern-day central midfielder. As most clubs tend to line-up with a midfield three lately, the number ten role has been slowly degrading. However, Grealish has adapted well to the different roles he has played mainly because of his excellent ball retention and dribbling skills.
His dribbling in the final third causes all sorts of problems for the opposition thus drawing in more than a defender which in turn creates space for his teammates. He is an excellent carrier of the ball who is not afraid to take on defenders and go for a shot himself. He is so difficult to be shrugged off the ball due to his impressive physical strength and balance that teams had to adopt fouling him to prevent the immediate goal threat, thus making him the most fouled player in a season of the Premier League.
As mentioned earlier, Grealish’s main strength lies in his dribbling and close ball control. He has been directly involved in 13 league goals so far this season despite playing in a lackluster Villa side. This is a superior output in comparison to other Premier League midfielders like James Maddison, Bernardo Silva & Dele Alli who all have fewer goal contributions than the Aston Villa captain.
He has a pass completion rate of 84.6% which is outstanding for a player who is the only creative outlet in his side and has to make most of the risky passes all by himself. This is again a higher number than those of the top echelon midfielders in the league like Kevin De Bruyne and Paul Pogba, thus highlighting how good he’s on the ball. He has made 2.7 key passes per game this season which shows his vision and awareness of the game.
[caption id="attachment_23569" align="alignnone" width="2560"] BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08: Jack Grealish of Aston Villa in action during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Leicester City at Villa Park on December 08, 2019 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. (Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images)[/caption]
Another commendable trait of the Englishman is his ball retention in tight spaces which allows him to carry the ball from the midfield to the final third often. His dribble completion rate stands at 2.1 per game whilst suffering fouls at an enormous rate of 5 per game. He tries to take on every single player on his way, something that he was known for as a kid. He is an imposing figure on the field that defenders can have a tough time stopping him.
Also, he has the much sought after ability to play on the half-turn which helps him crack even the deepest of defensive structures because of the quickness at which he thinks and plays. He has considerably improved his defensive side of the game which previously used to be his main area of weakness. He likes to press higher up the pitch and engage himself in a defensive duel winning a staggering 6 ground duels per game which is higher than the likes of Ngolo Kante & Georginio Wijnaldum who averages 2 & 3.4 respectively, thus showing how a well-rounded player he is.
Moreover, he is a born leader and a vocal figure in his team. His ability as a footballer is well complemented with his leadership skills and at the age of just 24, he can lead a team from the front while also pushing his teammates to perform better. The influence he has on the Aston Villa side is immense not only with his performances on the pitch but also with his leadership traits. It would require a hard search these days to find a player of his age bracket having the courage and maturity to lead a football team by example.
[caption id="attachment_23570" align="alignnone" width="700"] Image Credit - Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images[/caption]
The few areas of improvement in his game include his tackling where he engages in only about 0.9 tackles per game which is good, but an aspect that can be improved upon considering his English counterpart James Maddison puts in an impressive 1.9 tackles per game.
If he has the ambitions to become an out and out central midfielder dictating play from the deep, he has to engage in more of these tackles but most importantly times them to perfection. He has also drawn critics for “Trying to do too much!”, questioning the midfielder’s team play qualities. However, this has been an unfair criticism regarding someone playing in a distinctly average Aston Villa side and the only person to look up to to make things happen for the team.
Although, a problem could arise in the future in terms of his adaptability into an already settled side if he is to make a move elsewhere. As good as a leader he is, he can lose his temper quite often. While this can boost his abilities, it sometimes could cause an issue. He is quick to frustration and is never far away from booking.
His off the pitch controversies haven’t done him any favor either when he breached the lockdown rules for a late-night party and crashed his car into several other parked vehicles just hours after urging the public to stay indoors through his social media. He later apologized to the public for his actions but was charged by the police for driving offenses and was fined by the club. However, considering he hasn’t had his name thrown around much for the wrong reasons in the past, this must go down as a one-off incident.
Jack Grealish has been long monitored by Manchester United since his days in the Championship. After Grealish’s eye-catching performance at Old Trafford in the league this season which included arguably the goal of his career, reports began to intensify linking the player with a move to the Manchester-based club.
Unconfirmed reports were suggesting that the red devils had inquired about his availability in the most recent January transfer window, an approach which was quickly turned down by Villa and the former shifting their attentions to sign Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon instead.
[caption id="attachment_23571" align="alignnone" width="2560"] BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 16: Jack Grealish of Aston Villa in action during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and West Ham United at Villa Park on September 16, 2019 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)[/caption]
However, the latest reports from well-placed sources continue to link him with a summer move to United. He is reported to be amongst the priority targets for the club this summer alongside Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho. However, with the Manchester United midfield seemingly packed with several options, it would be interesting to see where he fits in.
He could also find himself as a squad player without a regular place in the starting eleven. It would be also interesting to see if he would be content with such a role after leading a Premier League side for an entire season and setting high standards for himself with his performances.
He has also attracted interest from the likes of Manchester City and Everton. Manchester City has reportedly identified him as a possible replacement for Leroy Sane who looks set to make a move to Bayern Munich in the summer. The rumored fee being quoted by Villa for his services is in the region of £80 million, a sum that is unlikely to be matched by any club in such a financial climate.
However, with Aston Villa being in the middle of a relegation battle and the possibility of a return to the Championship looking likely after each game, they would be forced to cash in on their star man for a considerably lower fee if they fail their battle for survival. The talks surrounding the player’s entourage have been suggesting that his primary aim is to keep his boyhood club in the Premier League before making a high-profile switch in the summer regardless of what happens.