I think I speak for just about every Aston Villa fan when I say that I want Jack Grealish wearing our famous claret and blue colours once again next season. He grew up a Villan, is the best player on the team, and has an incredibly bright future that I’d love to see him live out at B6, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that thought.
Here’s the problem: We know Villa are up against Financial Fair Play constraints heading into 2018–19, and we know they’re at least modestly significant. I’ve taken my best estimate of the FFP gap and the club’s owner, Dr. Tony Xia, confirmed Wednesday that the club face “severe FFP challenges” next season.
Selling Grealish could be a huge boost to meeting the remaining FFP gap and, given a large enough transfer fee, a prospective move could be enough to entirely clear the concern. That’s really damn tempting, and pretty cut and dry — you move Jack, slide Conor Hourihane into a more advanced role, promote Callum O’Hare and Jake Doyle-Hayes to the bench, and have a go again with a squad that’ll still have top-end Championship talent.
But let’s assume the club want to keep Jack at the club at all costs, in line with most supporters’ views. It still might not make sense.
That’s because there’s a simple problem with hanging on to Grealish: he’s not playing the 2019–20 season in the Championship. Jack might be (and probably is) interested in playing for the Villa again this year, but it’s particularly difficult to see a scenario where he’d effectively give up a chance to play at Euro 2020 by staying in the Championship in the season before the tournament.
If Jack stays, but Villa don’t go up again in 2018–19, the club are going to have to sell him anyway. Ripping the band-aid off now, and solving most of the club’s FFP problems, would almost certainly be of more benefit to the club than waiting 12 months to make the same transaction.
Fundamentally, club leaders must answer this question: Can Villa keep Jack Grealish, but still have a team capable of mounting a serious challenge for promotion to the Premier League? That answer may well depend on whether or not the club can do some good, cheap business in the transfer window to build depth.
For the sake of discussion, let’s say Villa find a way to keep both Chester and Grealish, and instead move all of Albert Adomah, Scott Hogan, Conor Hourihane and Jonathan Kodjia. I’d suggest the following team for opening day:
- FW: André Green, Keinan Davis, Ahmed Elmohamady
- MID: Jack Grealish, Birkir Bjarnason, Glenn Whelan
- DEF: Neil Taylor, James Chester, Mile Jedinak, James Bree
- GK: Jed Steer
Honestly, that’s not a bad team. It shares a lot of similarities with the team that beat Norwich 4-2 back in August, and with the right tactics, could be really solid.
The squad depth, though, is where it starts to fall apart. Henri Lansbury would be a solid option off the bench, but you’re quickly getting into the territory where you either have to rely on unproven youth players (like Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, O’Hare or Doyle-Hayes) or on more senior players you feel relatively confident aren’t that great (Gary Gardner or “bomb squad” members Ross McCormack and Micah Richards) to play significant minutes throughout the season, and to start when injuries hit. The club also don’t currently have a backup senior goalkeeper.
I think it’s hard to make the case that a team with that little depth would really stand much of a shot at winning promotion. Millwall used the fewest players in the Championship this past season, and they still used 24, which wouldn’t bode well for the Claret and Blues in this situation.
If Villa can find some good, cheap loan or permanent signings to help fill out a full, robust Championship squad, then by all means, I think it makes sense to keep Grealish around. But if the club’s end game is simply to surround Jack with a bare bones team that’s going to force him to play on the left wing if André Green gets hurt, it might be best to just get it over with so we can all move on.
As sad as that reality would be.