With all the news surrounding Lionel Messi’s exit from Barcelona after 21 years dominating worldwide, one might be forgiven for missing another key development in the Premier League. Jack Grealish, former Aston Villa captain and England star, became the first £100m player of the Premier League upon signing with Manchester City.
He bolsters the defending champions’ squad even further with the 25-year-old’s stated aim of playing Champions League football also getting fulfilled. There have been…mixed reactions from the Villans’ fanbase, especially since Grealish signed a new contract last year itself. No matter how he is remembered at Villa Park, there is little doubt that his legacy with the club is truly a special and unique one.
THE BOYHOOD HERO
Grealish, born and raised in the Midlands, is a lifelong Villa fan who joined the club’s youth system at the age of five. Having progressed through the ranks over the next 10 years, he spent a season on loan with Notts County in 2013-14. Grealish racked up five goals and seven assists with this experience clearly shaping up his future career in the higher leagues.
Congrats, @JackGrealish! 🤩🖤 https://t.co/vvf6MP0r7t pic.twitter.com/oNE8sj1vNR
— Notts County FC (@Official_NCFC) November 16, 2020
Making his debut as a 19-year-old in the Premier League, Grealish soon became a creative force due to his quick feet and ability to move forward with the ball. Given the fact that he was a local boy and clearly dedicated to the task at hand, the supporters embraced him at all ends. Grealish was there when the club was relegated in 2016, with many fearing he might leave rather than be in the Championship.
However, he stayed with the club for the three years spent in the second division before being given the captaincy in early 2019. The club went on a run of 10 wins which was inspired by Grealish’s heroics with six goals and six assists. Villa were able to clinch promotion through the play-offs and in their first season back, avoided relegation courtesy of a Grealish goal in their final match against West Ham that earned them a point.
Furthermore, he was also the most fouled player in the league, which further underlined how desperate opponents got in order to stop the playmaker. The past season saw him score six goals while assisting 10 despite being injured for a significant portion of time. When it comes to on-field accomplishments, Grealish has always been at the forefront of the Villa renaissance under new ownership.
81 – @JackGrealish has created 81 chances following ball carries in the Premier League in the last two seasons; this is more than any other player in the competition in this period, as well as the most across the top five European leagues. Game-changer. pic.twitter.com/m76HUmWJx2
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 4, 2021
Having made over 200 appearances for his beloved club, the journey has been full of fond moments. Even then, his popularity with the Villains is not only restricted to his performances in games but how he conducted himself all throughout.
LOVED BY ALL
Ever since his ascent to first-team regular, Grealish has been loved for his wholesome and exuberant nature. He could be regularly found interacting with fans before kickoff, signing merchandise, giving out autographs and even making visits to hospitals and charities. Grealish had really embraced the culture around the club wholeheartedly and was always willing to do his best.
Though he got into a few off-field troubles early on in his career, age and more responsibility meant that he had to grow up. He was slowly being seen as a leader and one of the best to play for the club across years. A very bright example of just how much the game meant to him was on display in March 2019.
Facing arch-rivals Birmingham City away, Grealish was punched by a pitch invader causing him to stay down for a few minutes. While other players might have been substituted or lost their spark, Grealish carried on and scored the winner in the second half. His acts of devotion and kindness are well-remembered but the manner in which he departed may become a thorn in the legacy.
Jack Grealish punched in the face by a pitch invader https://t.co/pJJ5GN0bUr pic.twitter.com/9Xfoh511Mu
— The Sun Football ⚽ (@TheSunFootball) March 10, 2019
After some splendid performances at the Euros and becoming a household name across the nation, it was thought that Grealish would lead the Villains charge for the top-six after some good additions in Emi Buendia and Leon Bailey. With Grealish, anything felt possible, due to his special disposition as a player on any team. However, like the club’s CEO explained yesterday, Grealish’s 2020 contract had a release clause if a Champions League club came calling. That proved to be the case with the Cityzens exercising just right.
DOING THE RIGHT THING?
There’s a significant debate in the footballing world of trophies vs loyalty. Should players go for silverware with better-positioned teams or stay faithful and build something together? Many supporters believe that Grealish left at the wrong time. Aston Villa were on the up after a respectable 11th-placed finish, they had brought in solid players, youth graduates were getting integrated with the first-team and stout boardroom.
Aston Villa can confirm Jack Grealish has completed a transfer to Manchester City.
CEO Christian Purslow is live on VillaTV explaining the circumstances behind the move.
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) August 5, 2021
All of it combined to give the club a feel of challenging for the upper echelons of the table soon. Grealish’s departure, coming so soon after the renewal, has left many shaken. Though the hate and indignation will die down over time, there will be a time when the fans will know how precious and important he was.