Even though this season isn’t over yet (and there’s still a lot for Aston Villa to play for), the transfer rumour mill started out with a bang last week, with the news that Leicester City are interested in signing Villa star Jack Grealish if the club don’t go up. While I think the £20 million tag quoted in the report falls well short of what Villa should be seeking for Grealish — and thankfully, Steve Bruce agrees — the link makes some level of sense; Jack will turn 23 in September, and that’s the age at which he really needs to start to break through at the top level, working his way toward inclusion into the England setup, with an aim toward Euro 2020. It’s hard to deny that playing another season in the Championship doesn’t really help with that aim.
So, yes, moving to the Premier League this summer clearly makes sense for Grealish — it would help him with his England ambitions, and it would give him a chance to prove himself on a larger level than Championship football. That’s good.
The linked club? I don’t feel as strongly about that side of this rumour.
In short, the argument for Grealish to move to Leicester is that the Foxes are a solid mid-table Premier League side, and moving into that team is a good fit for Grealish’s current talent level. On that point, I agree — in the Leicester team, I neither think Jack would be the best, nor the worst member of the XI. In the short-term, it’s a good place for him to move for his development.
But if this Premier League season is truly telling us one thing, it’s that the “short-term” view is just one season long.
Say the following rumour popped up 12 months ago: “Southampton, Stoke City interested in signing Villa starlet Jack Grealish.” The same arguments in favour of a move to Leicester are the same arguments you could’ve made about a move to either of these clubs a year ago. Either club was the textbook definition of a solid mid-table side — Southampton’s last four finishes were 8th, 7th, 6th and 8th; Stoke’s last four were 9th, 9th, 9th and 13th — and in either place, Jack would’ve joined up alongside talented players. Had such an offer came, and the club taken it, we all would’ve said that it was a logical, upward move for him.
Leave this scenario and return to today: Southampton and Stoke sit 18th and 19th in the Premier League table, and given each are four points back with only three weeks left in the season, both clubs are likely to be back in the Championship next season, no longer in the Premier League. What’s to say that Leicester couldn’t suffer the same fate next year if Grealish moves, sending him right back to the division he tried to leave? I certainly don’t think the Foxes will drop next year, but the idea of Saints going down would’ve seemed preposterous to me at the start of the season.
If there’s one truth in the Premier League, it’s that 13 clubs start every season trying to hit that magic 40-point target. Burnley will play Europa League football next year, yet their top domestic objective won’t be a return to Europe — it’ll be finishing 17th or better in the league. Ditto for West Ham, who think they’re a much bigger club than they really are, and yes, that Leicester team that wants to come after Jack.
Now, if 2019 was a major tournament year, I might be a little more sympathetic to the argument that Grealish needs to get to the Premier League, no matter the club he joins — playing at the top level in the season leading up to the tournament is vital. There isn’t a major tournament until 2020, though, and there’s no better way for Jack to ensure he’s playing Premier League football that year than to wait until the summer of 2019 to move clubs.
I think the whole argument changes if Arsenal, Liverpool or a similarly big club comes calling this summer, and for good reason. But I don’t think they quite will, and really, I don’t think they’ll be more or less likely to try to buy him from Premier League Leicester City in 2019 than they would be from Championship Aston Villa. Those are the clubs worth moving to — you know you’re going to be at a club that can launch you into the England team, and you know you’re going to be at a club where you have to be the best version of yourself to even get in the team. (And I genuinely hope Jack does move when he gets that offer. I’d hate for him to become another Gabby Agbonlahor who never tested himself at the highest level.)
Until that moment comes, though, Jack’s best staying at home — even if that home remains the Championship for another season. It’s why Sunday’s report that he’s looking to stay at Villa next season regardless of division is so encouraging.