As Jack Grealish’s exit from Aston Villa after nineteen years at the club was announced on Thursday, we will be publishing a number of articles from different perspectives as we look at the transfer and its implications on the club moving forward, which we’re playfully calling “The Grealish Papers”.
Before we start, I took on this project because I’ve never been overly protective of Jack Grealish at the club. The story is great, and is one of very few you see in modern football, but it took me until this season to believe that this club was dependent on Grealish. As such, I hope that these articles will come across as more objective than most you’ll see.
The power vacuum
As Jack Grealish has now left the football club, there lies something beyond the discussions about talent and the impact that the additions will have as replacements; both as it comes to tactics and performance (for that, you can read the first of these articles: Never mind Jack, here’s Aston Villa). Namely, the power vacuum that Jack Grealish leaves behind at the club at almost every level.
The loss of a superstar talent is not something that Villa fans are alien too. In fact, as someone who remembers Dwight Yorke leaving, then of course Gareth Barry, James Milner, Ashley Young, Fabian Delph, and Christian Benteke, it’s easy to consider this as just a regular occurrence, but this one is different for a number of reasons.
Jack Grealish is a superstar mainly because of his brand. You can aim to refute this with his numbers, which are great, but when you consider the percentage of plays that ran through him at Villa, a lot can be said for the fact that he is an incredible talent that is boosted by being pushed out front and centre and carrying the Villa brand both on and off the pitch.
Off the pitch you say? Yes. Ever since Villa got promoted back to the Premier League and they convinced Grealish to sign a new deal instead of taking a move to Tottenham on the cheap, ownership has seemed to do everything in their power to amplify the image of Grealish as the main main at Villa. The image of him and Dean Smith with the playoff trophy in front of the North Stand is one of the more grotesque examples of just how Grealish-centric the brand became. This isn’t something that any of the others were afforded by a country mile.
Mings ready to lead the ship
Outside of the dependence of Jack within the clubs attacking play, the move to make him captain after his comeback from injury in 2019 is one that some such as myself were never on board with. An almost too obvious ploy to try and satisfy their most impactful player and get a momentum boost — it played perfectly into Grealish’s brand and the overall story of fan to captain.
The truth, however, is that he simply isn’t a captain on the field. Often petulant and abusive at others on the field and relatively silent towards his own players as well, the advantages in naming him as captain was probably more wound up in building his brand, his story, and willingness to staying at Villa as long as he did.
Tyrone Mings will most likely step forward as captain now and as such, is a far more fitting appointment. A man who never stops communicating and a real leader off the field as well as on it - as much has been amplified to national attention over the last year.
By building a brand that’s about general team accomplishments, attacking style, and hopefully youth development as well, Villa will fill the power vacuum left by a Jack Grealish departure — a Tyrone Mings captaincy will likely not mean too much on the field, but will allow for an easier transition off it.
Jack’s absence will be felt by the team, the fans, and the football watching public at large. Of that, there is no doubt. However, Villa’s calculated approach, exciting prospects, and leaders in waiting will allow them to move forward with confidence.