After weeks of mindless speculation, including momentary false hope, Jack Grealish has completed his £100m transfer to Manchester City.
The six year deal, saw Grealish reject a substantially improved Villa offer, reportedly higher than what he stands to earn at The Etihad. The scale of the transfer fee makes the England international a British record, eclipsing that of the £89m Manchester United paid Juventus for the services of Paul Pogba.
Manchester City triggered the release clause in Grealish’s existing contract last week, with Pep Guardiola firming up his interest in adding to his three time title winning squad.
Grealish was confirmed as having departed Villa’s pre-season training camp Wednesday and was pictured having finalised personal terms and a medical Thursday afternoon.
On Thursday evening, club CEO Christian Purslow confirmed that Grealish had requested that the £100m release clause be exercised and that the player’s reasoning for this was a desire to play Champions League football immediately.
HIGHS AND LOWS
The departure of the club’s marquee player cannot be regarded (in playing terms) as anything other than a major loss. It would be deluded to suggest that the exit (and arguably the manner), won’t be painful in the short term. Grealish’s creative stats speak for themselves, his absence will be felt, with the evidence of this being City’s single-minded pursuit of the club’s most prized asset.
Villa have and continue to make notable year on year progress under the ownership of Wes Edens and Naguib Sawiris, but the fact is that ultimately even our billionaire owners and their obvious ambitions couldn’t sway Grealish. It was after-all the 26 year olds decision to depart barely a year after committing himself to a long-term deal at the football club. Given how things are lining up for NSWE, it’s got to sting. The project is on track, perhaps even ahead of itself, but it wasn’t developed enough to keep a player of Grealish’s quality and a marketable figurehead with it.
Supporters will no doubt reflect upon what for many years was a hidden gem, quietly developing, despite consecutive bomb-squads falling apart around him. Indeed, when Grealish did begin to turn heads following a break-out victory win against Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final, few observer’s outside of those closely following the club recognised the real potential before them.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, however.
Grealish’s growing stock was impeded by a series of recurring off-field PR blunders. Tabloid exposes detracted from his on-field qualities; Drunken holiday pictures, a happy gas incident, a pandemic lockdown breach and a driving ban did little to nurture what most at Villa Park knew, which was that we harboured a very rare talent indeed.
It was arguably Villa’s malaise following the decline of the Lerner years and Villa’s near-collapse under the control of Dr Tony Xia that saw Grealish stay off the radar of many football fans. As the club faltered in it’s attempts to return to the top-flight from the Championship following relegation, many felt that Grealish still had prove his worth amongst the domestic elite.
The former Irish-U21’s development was hampered too by injury, including long spells out with shin stress fracture(s) and a serious kidney ailment picked up during an innocuous pre-season fixture. The impact of recurring injury upon Grealish’s game-time and with it Villa’s form mustn’t go without mention either.
Grealish has consistently missed significant parts of seasons due to long term injury. And, as noted by Matt Maher, for Villa to achieve a transfer fee of £100m+ for a player with no European footballing experience, less than 100 Premier League appearances and never having scored for his country “is in many respects a truly remarkable deal”.
The impact upon Villa during his absences was certainly glaring. This was a squad still in transition and part-assembled around him. In 2020/21, with Grealish in the side, Villa won 56% of the time. Without him, just 23%. The argument of course might be that he won’t be expected to play the amount of games at City, nor be the focal point for creativty in a squad featuring the likes of De Bruyne, Sterling and company.
Despite these persistent injury problems, Grealish has consistently demonstrated his worth. His in-game contribution and threatening style saw the 26 year old deservedly but belatedly called up to the England squad for the deferred European Championships. Whilst this was to be welcomed, it will remain a mystery as to how Grealish managed less than 120 minutes of football across a tournament that the national side will likely never have a better opportunity to win. It will also be a great shame that we never got to see Jack lift such an honour as a Villa player, with the chance so tantalisingly close.
The departure of Grealish will for many of a Claret & Blue persuasion inevitably resonate in different ways. One need only open (and then promptly close) social media to see that the topic has and will likely continue to be devisive for some time to come. Life’s too short to be bitter or hateful, and it’s all a matter of opinions.
Whilst this blog holds no ill-will towards Grealish [it’s his career decision] instead it’s the feeling of “what might have been” and disappointment that now begins to set in.
Any debate as to whether Grealish has a significant Villa legacy is though (unfortunately) a complete non-starter. Undeniably he contributed when available and was a talisman at moments when Villa appeared otherwise listless. However, as mentioned above, allowances were made for a number of high profile gaffes (some undeniably serious) and recurring prolonged injury, where otherwise we might’ve been less forgiving as a fanbase.
Grealish was also about to enter what we hoped would be the pinnacle, the ‘legacy’ defining period of his Villa career. Only this would have determined any meaningful legacy and notion of him being regarded as a genuine club legend. Sadly, we will never know what might have been. Truly iconic players, irrelevant of their clubs, must win trophies, achieve major honours in the game and are notable for being a central figure in a teams success. For Villa, the aspiration to be back amongst the elite shouldn’t change, but if realised, this will be done in direct competition with our former Captain and lifelong fan. For Grealish, he felt that in order for him to achieve this, presumbly quickly, he had no option but to move on.
The transfer also comes at a moment where Villa are best equipped to begin fulfilling upon any pre-existing promise towards Grealish. For supporters, it’s a monumental anti-climax, but we need not dwell. Football is a business, long devoid of loyalty and our own hierarchy acts with similar ruthlesslesness in it’s transfer dealings.
As such, Grealish can be remembered for his contribution, respected for his time at the club, but that time can now only be considered unfulfilled from a Villa perspective.
The world still turns and positively it appears to be in Aston Villa’s favour.
There is most certainly life beyond Grealish and it’s an exciting mix of pace, trickery and flair taking the form of a plethora of new signings. Emi Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings represent immediate improvement to the squad in terms of both assists, goals and support for existing quality amongst the side.
Let’s not forget that either that this a squad that has England internationals Tyrone Mings and Ollie Watkins within it, not to mention Copa America winner Emi Martinez between the sticks. This is not a doom and gloom moment like previous painful episodes that saw our best plucked by a ‘big 6’ side, things are very much different this time.
Grealish is gone, but any dependency upon him [referenced directly by Purslow], is also gone with it.