NOT many Premier League players have shone as brightly this season as Jack Grealish. Indeed, the 25-year-old has impressed to such an extent that most like him among the candidates to be named PFA Player of the Year alongside the likes of Ruben Dias, Bruno Fernandes, Ilkay Gundogan and Harry Kane.
That Grealish is keeping such company while playing for Aston Villa, a team of more modest ambition and resources than many of his peers, says a lot about his quality. As does the dramatic dip in form suffered by Dean Smith’s side since their captain was sidelined with a leg injury in mid-February.
Of the six Premier League fixtures played since Grealish’s, Aston Villa have won just one. While the Midlands outfit were not so long ago challenging for European football, they have now slipped to 10th in the table. Even more concerning is that Aston Villa have scored just three times in those six fixtures.
Until his injury, this season was shaping up to be Grealish’s last at Villa Park. The 25-year-old has been the subject of much transfer speculation for the last two years, but as an England international he has recently reached another level. In such form, it’s surely only a matter of time until the big clubs come armed with their cheque books. The two Manchester clubs are believed to be particularly interested.
— Sportskeeda Football (@skworldfootball) March 22, 2021
Villa, however, should be wary before selling their prize asset. Smith’s side have undoubtedly made great strides this season, but their recent underwhelming performances win at what life without Grealish would be like for them. In both creativity and spirit, the 25-year-old would take some replacing.
The performance produced in the 2-0 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday illustrated just how integral Grealish is to Aston Villa and the way they create in the final third, with the hosts registering just one shot on target over the 90 minutes. They were toothless against an out-of-form opponent.
“With Jack you get those little bits of quality which can open up teams and would probably have opened up Tottenham,” Smith admitted afterwards, reflecting on what is currently going wrong for Villa. “Unfortunately we haven’t had him and at the moment the other players have not taken the opportunity.
“We were excellent at Leeds last month with a superb defensive performance but we didn’t create many chances. Players have to play themselves into form. We have a number of players who have shown really good form over the first half of the season and it is not there at the moment.”
— Aston Villa News (@AVFC_News) March 18, 2021
It’s to be expected that a club like Aston Villa would suffer a drop-off without a figure of Grealish’s elite level quality, but the 25-year-old is more than just a good player for them. He is their beating heart and spiritual leader. Aston Villa don’t just revolve around Grealish as a team, but as a club too.
A strong showing for England at Euro 2020 could make Grealish one of the most sought after players in this summer’s transfer window. Aston Villa could name their price and point to deals like Manchester United’s £80 million signing of Harry Maguire in their measuring of Grealish’s true value.
However, whatever Aston Villa ultimately collect for Grealish, whether it be this summer or some other time, won’t be enough. That money won’t help find someone to replace the 25-year-old because that player doesn’t exist for Villa. Nobody else of such calibre has the inherent connection to club that Grealish has. In his recent absence, Aston Villa have been shown what life after he’s gone could be like.