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Jack Grealish, bad faith criticism & high standards

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When we judge Grealish, we must remember that it is he, not us, who has set the bar.

Aston Villa v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

It’s all you see. Jack Grealish - LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL. Twenty games lost in a row in the Premier League. It’s the worst record of all time if you want to swallow it without context. To take the various ‘infographics’ at face value is akin to opening up book six of a twelve book series, reading the last few pages and stating publicly that ‘it’s a bit crap’.

Grealish’s story is far from over and although he’s got plenty to prove in terms of his ability to shine in the Premier League - he has nothing to prove to Aston Villa fans. Not anymore.

He’s the player that fans will attach themselves to - and before Tyrone Mings came along, he was the standout amongst parasocial relationships between the Villa fanbase and players. People believe that they are Jack Grealish’s mate because the Villa captain is also a Villa fan and he involves himself with the fanbase.

This is on one hand, a good thing. On the other hand, it’s bad news - people assume they know Jack Grealish because they follow him. That’s not how this works but how we have been wired to believe it works. For this reason, Grealish is adored. Adoration in football is a really nice thing to see - but it also brings an awful flipside; that people will work incredibly hard and carve out strong biases in an effort to disprove that adoration.

Why work so hard to offer paper-thin criticism of Villa’s hardest-working, and arguably most talented player? The trope in the past few weeks has been to hold up John McGinn, grab a few stats, and compare it to Grealish. What does it prove? To some, it proves that McGinn is ‘better’ than Grealish - but neither are competing for a spot. They own their roles in the team - and Villa are blessed to have both of their talents.

It’s not even a fun comparison, not like a power ranking or rating, it seems to be an odd desire to bring Grealish down to earth. The most vocal critiques are not good in their nature and seem to be carried out in bad faith - and so early into his season.

The truth is that Grealish - when attacking the goal - couldn’t have done much better. He got onto the end of a great chance and missed a high ball, but that happens to the elite as well. He created six scoring opportunities for Villa, six. Including his own effort, that’s seven. Did he miss a ‘sitter’? Yes. Did he offer Villa plenty more opportunities to score? Also yes. Villa’s goal was ninety-percent the effort of Douglas Luiz, but it was also a smart pass from Grealish to unlock the space needed for the Brazilian to shoot.

Grealish’s game involved him getting into dangerous positions, playing in the football and creating chances. Just because it didn’t come off for him, or anyone else, doesn’t mean that he had a bad game. He’s the undeniable focus of the opposition press, and he still manages to perform. While it didn’t truly work for him against Bournemouth, he is only 180 minutes into his Premier League, and is still a developing player.

If Jack’s performance was disappointing in his last match, it’s only against the bar that he himself has set. He’s battled a lot of adversity on the pitch for years now - do you expect this, and his development to simply halt because he is performing against a higher standard of player? Grealish’s performances have been of increasingly high standards for two seasons in a row now. A little stutter is expected, but we must remember that we are judging this player against the standard that he has created. A standard that for the most part, has been set higher each time that he has been written off.

After all that Jack Grealish has been through, why would you ever want to count him out? When Villa face bad luck (no team can ever escape that), why must we search so hard for someone to martyr? Before damning Jack, Villa fans should probably hold their tongues for another few matches. That’s the least that his efforts deserve.