In the fall of 2015, Jack Grealish upset many in Ireland by opting to represent England at international level despite having played for the Emerald Isle at youth level. The England manager at the time, Roy Hogdson, appeared keen to immediately integrate the youngster into his squad. It therefore, seemed inevitable that Grealish would soon force his way into the Three Lions’ fold, and in the same month, Tim Sherwood famously (and somewhat comically) claimed he wouldn’t sell the winger for £60m. Fast forward three months and Grealish was training with Villa’s reserve team, and was frozen out of the senior side.
In many ways, over a year on, the 21-year-old’s career is still in limbo. Flashes of raw talent have been overshadowed by dark clouds of unprofessionalism and inconsistency. Grealish’s career is at somewhat of a crossroads. He could go onto be an Aston Villa and Premier League great, or he could just as easily, allow his career to slip away.
One thing that never seems to be up for debate about Grealish, is his natural ability. He is a player who on his day, can glide past opposition defenders, supply perfectly timed crosses, and is even capable of contributing goals. When the midfielder was first introduced by Paul Lambert, those in B6 were intrigued and hopeful by the teenager’s performances. It wasn’t until Tim Sherwood took up residency at Villa Park that Grealish was given his first Premier League start. His performance in that 3-3 draw against QPR, proved to Sherwood that he was ready for the rigours of Premier League football. Consequently, Grealish started in every one of the remaining eleven matches throughout the close of the 2014/15 season. Grealish provided assists in the quarter and semi-finals of Villa’s march to the FA Cup final. At the time, fans believed a Solihull-born superstar had emerged, yet, it would prove to be just a fleeting glance of Grealish’s undeniable ability.
The winger has shown these brief purples patches more than once since May 2015. He began Villa’s current campaign with the eagerness and exuberance, of a man who yearned to rewrite his wrongs from Villa’s relegation season. Grealish scored two goals in the month of August, including a superb solo effort against Rotherham. In December, he also produced a sublime late strike against Wigan, which secured all three points for Villa. The summer of 2016 proved Grealish could produce on an international stage, as he played a vital role in England’s U21 triumph in Toulouse.
However, despite the highs in a senior career that is barely two years old, Grealish has also experienced some incredible lows. As mentioned previously, the 2015/16 season saw the number 40 banished to the U21 side. This was due to his decision, to enjoy a boozy night in Manchester, just hours after Villa’s 4-0 defeat to Everton. This followed on the back of photos emerging of the youngster, passed out in the streets of Tenerife, the summer before. It the midst of his good form this campaign, reports emerged that Grealish was present at a party in a Birmingham hotel, which police were forced shut down. The England U21 star also enraged manager Aidy Boothroyd recently, by failing to show up to a team meeting, which saw him dropped for the friendly against Denmark.
The ‘bad boy’ image has also spilt onto the pitch this season. In Steve Bruce’s first match as Villa boss, Grealish was caught on camera stamping on Wolves’ Conor Coady, which saw the midfielder retrospectively banned for three games. Just a few weeks later, Grealish saw his second career red card, for two innocuous fouls against Nottingham Forest. The game – which Villa lost - was tied at 1-1, when the 21-year-old received his marching orders.
Steve Bruce’s short reign at Villa Park has seen a decline in Grealish’s performances. Much like last year, games can often pass the winger by. Upon receiving the ball, Grealish often produces ineffective runs, is wasteful with possession and can slow down attacks. On many occasions the Villa youth product appears to lack motivation and desire. As a result, Grealish has only played 11 minutes in Villa’s last nine games, although he has also been hampered with a knee problem. Somewhat of note is that Grealish’s absence has seemed to coincide with an upswing in Villa’s form. The boyhood Villa fan is not performing to the same standards he exhibited in the early periods of this season, and has fallen behind Albert Adomah and Andre Green in Steve Bruce’s pecking order.
With just six games left in the Championship season, Grealish needs to prove to Bruce that he is capable of providing effective and consistent performances for Villa. It seems this fledgling career can take two paths. He could realise that skill, is simply not enough. Much like James Milner (who broke into the Leeds team aged 16), Grealish could elect to match his talent with the hard work and application that may see him became a senior international in the coming years. However, the winger could also see his skill go to waste, and watch his career wither away. Much like Ravel Morrison, who has not cashed in on the prestigious talent which once saw him being touted as a future England star, Grealish could wind up being stuck in a footballing wilderness.
The next 12 months could prove vital in determining what path Grealish takes. Either he could follow that, which could see him become a Villa great, or that, which will see him be judged as just another wasted talent. Should Grealish decide to devote his time to the assiduous dedication his career desperately needs, then he will surely become a top Premier League winger (regardless if that is with Villa, or another side). If not, it would be unsurprising to see Grealish leave Villa Park, most likely for a poor Championship side, and who knows how his career could plummet from there.