Jack Grealish has been around these parts for a long time. It doesn’t just seem like that, it’s the truth. He came onto the first-team radar at Villa in 2012. Six years ago. That’s a long time for a 22 year old to have been in the big picture of a club.
Ask yourself. What’s happened in those six years? There was Liverpool in the Cup and Leicester in the League, there was the slaloming, never ending dribble against Rotherham, there was Wigan, Fulham and there was Brighton. In six years, we haven’t seen a great deal from Villa’s own ‘Billy the Kid’. A troublemaking gunslinger who showed up only when he was truly needed to provide a burst of brilliance before receding.
However, it seems that everything that has happened since 2012 has simply been acting as the building blocks - the making of the Jack Grealish we have now in 2018 - the player who is performing better than we thought he could. The start of the present lies just a little while ago in the past, and we have to head to Tenerife.
We shouldn’t really give too much of a toss about the fact that Jack Grealish was pictured passed out on a street in Tenerife, because what is he? A young Brummie lad on a holiday - worse happens. The fact that we only managed to see Grealish passed out and not engaged in some incredibly embarrassing acts of stupidity is somewhat of a blessing. There are plenty of stories about other, higher-profile England footballers that haven’t yet hit the papers, but Grealish was the man with the target on his back and thus - the smallest indiscretion would make front page news.
We didn’t mind much, it was just a shame when there seemed to be no learning curve for the lad. After Tenerife there was the laughing gas and then the party up north, which lead to his removal from the first team. Fool me once. Even then, again, I couldn’t find the time to care. Plenty other players were getting up to worse, yet you could find pictures of Jack all over. It wasn’t really fair, but life isn’t. The fact is - it wasn’t upsetting that Grealish was getting caught, it was just annoying that it kept happening.
But it had to happen, all of it. All of that had to happen to forge the man we now in have in midfield.
This was meant to be Jack’s season, this was it. 2017/2018 was his season. Ignore the fact that every single season prior to 17/18 was ‘his’ as well. Our manager, Steve Bruce came out and said as much.
Then, fate comes in with a chop block.
One minute you’re leading the team in a pre-season friendly, the next you’re being rushed to hospital with a lacerated kidney questioning everything from your mortality to your footballing career and everything that has lead up to that point.
There is no doubt in my mind that Jack’s kidney injury which forced him away from football has played a huge role in his development. Why? In Jack, we have a player who has never truly had time to reflect on well, anything. Every summer he has been involved with an international setup, every week he is playing football, every week he is training. Even at a youth level, when he wasn’t turning out for Villa, he was playing Gaelic Football at a decent level. Grealish has always been in fifth gear - except for now, when serious treatment in a medical ward put a sudden halt to that.
Time spent away from what you love simply allows you to reflect, observe and learn. The mental portion of the game is often underlooked, but it’s probably the one thing that makes a great player truly that - great. It’s not something you can focus on without some time away, either. Forced to relax and recover - it’s possible that Jack was able to reconsider his role in the team, and what he could bring to Villa. A team that stumbled out of the blocks, got firing and then hit the ground again until he returned. A team that couldn’t do much except pin all their hopes on Albert Adomah.
What do we have in Grealish now? We have a player with a ruthlessness, intelligence and grit. Someone who will relish getting kicked and pushed around (someone who is perhaps more used to that than anyone, owing to his background in Gaelic Football).
Ruthlessness? Yes. The fancy tricks and flair seem to have been pushed into the background by a rejuvenated and direct Jack Grealish who morphs the tempo and style of the game to his will. Possession football? Ok - we’re doing that now. Route one? Just my thing. A player on automatic transmission, but with all the control of manual. This is now a player who will do whatever he can to lead his team forward.
There are still flaws. While the immaturity is gone, the confidence seems to be just over the top. Dribbling too far, being too smart - these are good problems to have, though.
As for his role? He’s not a lazy but gifted Trequartista, he’s no Enganche, not even a traditional ‘Gazza’. Jack Grealish is making his own role up as he goes. Someone who will drive Villa forward, and someone who will win the ball. I want to be smart and thrill you with the term ‘Segundo Volante’ - a driving defensive midfielder - but Jack is playing as far forward as striker. I can’t pinpoint this role, it’s like having a ball-winner as number ten. That’s thrilling to me.
Maybe what we have in Jack Grealish now is a leader? Tell that to someone still living in 2015 and see how they respond! They’ll be surprised, but I think we all were.