“Finding the space, overlapping the full-backs and defenders, visionary passes – be it short or long, smart off the ball movement, and lift the spirit of the whole unit when the chips are down – make Grealish a complete package”

After rescuing Aston Villa from relegation with a late goal against West Ham on the final day of the 2019-20 season, the young man is expected to achieve bigger things in the coming days. He was fouled 167 times across the last season; this was the most fouls won by a player in a single Premier League campaign, with passing the record with over eight matches remaining in the season.

A move to one of the Premier League’s biggest clubs might soon be on the cards; likewise, following his first England call-up, international caps. This season, he has been the nucleus of Villa as well – helping his team to torment big clubs like Liverpool and Arsenal.

Gone are the days when his professionalism and maturity came under scrutiny.

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In 2015, during his breakthrough season with Aston Villa, he made an unwanted appearance on newspaper front pages for inhaling from balloons containing nitrous oxide, also known as “laughing gas”, at a party.

Two months later, he was pictured apparently intoxicated and passed out while on holiday in Tenerife.

In September 2016, Aston Villa opened an internal disciplinary investigation after reports that Grealish was at a party at a Birmingham hotel which had to be shut down by the police in the early morning. In response, owner Tony Xia wrote on Twitter that Grealish had to focus on and off the pitch, and associate with the right people.

In October 2016, Grealish was suspended for three matches after accepting a charge of violent conduct following a stamp on Conor Coady in Villa’s 1–1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers.

On March 10, 2019, Grealish was assaulted by a pitch invader during the derby match away to Birmingham City. Later in the second half, Grealish scored to give Aston Villa a 1–0 victory.

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The same day, a 27-year-old man from Rubery was arrested. He appeared on 11 March at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court charged with encroachment on to the pitch and assault.

He pleaded guilty to the offenses and was sent to prison for 14 weeks.

And earlier this year, he was charged with two driving offenses after crashing his car while appearing to contravene Coronavirus lockdown restrictions in March.

His maturity, his readiness for all that awaits him, has been questioned.

But his talent was never questioned and in the course of time, Jack Grealish has proved he is not just a player to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, but he can be more than that!

The young prodigy

Grealish was born in Birmingham, West Midlands, and raised in nearby Solihull. He attended Our Lady of Compassion Roman Catholic Primary School and St Peter’s Roman Catholic Secondary School in Solihull.

He is of Irish descent, through his maternal grandfather from County Dublin, his paternal grandfather from Gort, County Galway, and his paternal grandmother from Sneem, County Kerry.

Influenced by his Irish heritage, Grealish played gaelic football for John Mitchel’s Hurling and Camogie Club of Warwickshire GAA between the ages of 10 and 14. He competed against former Aston Villa Ladies and current Birmingham City Ladies defender Aoife Mannion, a school classmate of his, at Gaelic football.

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In 2009, Grealish scored a point representing Warwickshire GAA at Croke Park during half-time of the 2009 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final between Dublin and Kerry.

Grealish’s younger brother, Keelan, died of sudden infant death syndrome in April 2000 at the age of nine months.

His great-great-grandfather, Billy Garraty, was also a footballer, who earned one England cap and won the 1905 FA Cup Final with Aston Villa.

Grealish, a lifelong Aston Villa fan, joined the club as a six-year-old.

BBC stated, “Shay Given fires the ball high into the air above Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training ground. As it begins to fall back to earth, there is a quick realization that the ball will return in the form of a test. The 15-year-old standing beneath it has long been accustomed to feeling the eyes of others fixed on him, a standout local talent within the club’s academy since he joined aged six. It doesn’t seem to affect him that the stares he attracts at this moment belong to the manager and coaches he needs to impress, the players whose approval he must earn. Grealish kills the ball dead.”

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“Senior players Richard Dunne and James Collins nodded their approval. Another, Stiliyan Petrov, was clearly impressed.”

“The other boys in Villa’s academy knew Grealish was destined to star for the club he’d always supported.”

At the age of 16, he was named as an unused substitute in a 4–2 home Premier League defeat against Chelsea on 31 March 2012. Grealish was part of the club’s under-19 team that won the 2012–13 NextGen Series, scoring in a 3–1 extra-time victory over Sporting CP in the semi-final.

In 2013, Grealish joined League One club Notts County on a youth loan. He made his professional debut the following day, coming on as a 59th-minute substitute for David Bell in a 3–1 away defeat to Milton Keynes Dons.

A few months later he scored his first career goal, beating three defenders to score the last goal in a 3–1 win over Gillingham at Meadow Lane, and followed this a week later by opening a 4–0 victory at Colchester United.

Grealish extended his loan with Notts County in 2014 until the end of the season. He ended his loan with five goals and seven assists in 38 appearances.

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When Grealish arrived in Nottingham, his new team-mates saw skills that would upgrade their attack – a breezy dribbling style, an eye for a pass, and a crisp ball-striking technique. But they were struck most by his physicality, a muscular robustness ready-made for the rigors of third-tier football.

“He was only a young boy but he had this physique,” remembers Sheehan, County’s captain at the time. “He was built like a top athlete. ‘Who’s this kid here?’ was the first thing I was thinking because he looked serious.”

At the end of his loan with Notts County, Grealish returned to Aston Villa and made his club debut on 7 May, coming on as an 88th-minute substitute for Ryan Bertrand in a 4–0 away defeat to Manchester City in the Premier League.

On the pitch the talent of Grealish was evident but the field antics always undermined his development and the lack of interest from the big clubs remained constant.

The  comeback  

After the incident on March 10, 2019, Grealish started to unleash his talent and gain control over his maturity – he took the leadership role which amassed a club-record 10 league victories in a row.

This form granted Villa a place in the play-offs where victories over West Bromwich Albion and Derby County gained them promotion to the Premier League after an absence of three years.

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Grealish’s first goal of the 2019–20 season came in the second round of the 2019–20 EFL Cup against Crewe Alexandra on 27 August 2019.

His first Premier League goal of the season came on 5 October, netting his side’s third goal in a 5–1 away win over Norwich City. The result lifted the club out of the bottom three and leapfrogged their opponents in the Premier League table.

In this season, Grealish is one of the most wanted talents in the Premier League.

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Grealish scored his first league goal of the campaign in Villa’s second match on 28 September; the first goal in a 3–0 win at newly-promoted Fulham. On 4 October, he scored a brace and provided three assists in a 7–2 home victory over Liverpool. It was Liverpool’s heaviest defeat in 57 years and was the first time in Premier League history that a reigning champion had conceded 7 goals in a single match. And then, it was time for Arsenal to experience the best of Grealish, where he toyed with the Gunners backline and midfield.

The impact

Grealish has been directly involved in 9 goals in 7 Premier League appearances this season.

The manager of Aston Villa Dean Smith has used various systems over the years to shape up his team. He has rotated between a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-4-3 depending on the opponent.

Grealish has fit into all those systems and adapt to exhibit his talent and skill.

In the 4-2-3-1, he plays in his preferred number ten role with the freedom to influence play all over the pitch. In the 3-4-3, the midfielder plays in a left-sided role. Although not naturally a winger, Grealish can fill in that position when required. In this role, he drifts inside to the central areas in order to have a bigger impact on the game.

Aston Villa’s tactics are built around Grealish having the ball as much as possible since he is the most creative player in the side. He is also the club captain and looks to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

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Bryan Jones, Aston Villa’s former academy director, likened his playing style to that of Nottingham Forest legend John Robertson, citing his “ability to just ghost past people.”

As a consequence of his nimble movement, Grealish has notably been on the receiving end of heavier, more physical challenges from opposing players. Shaun Derry, his manager at Notts County, highlighted this, following fixtures against Sheffield United and Stevenage in early 2014 and called for more official protection.

In a 2014 match for Aston Villa against Hull City at Villa Park, a number of fouls committed against Grealish resulted in three Hull players receiving yellow cards within just a 15-minute period.

Grealish wears child-sized shin pads whilst playing, in order to maintain his ability to control the ball effectively.

He wears his football socks rolled down due to superstition, which has led to referees warning him to pull them up.

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Grealish is a combination between a traditional number ten and a modern-day midfielder. Other than playing the role of a playmaker, he has the ability to retain possession very well. Grealish has the ability to play across the frontline as well as in a midfield three due to his dribbling and press-resistance.

The whole team rotates around him – He is very involved in the buildup to goals.

Grealish has 2.5 shot assists on average per 90 minutes. He leads the stats for most touches in the penalty area with 8.16 in 90 minutes. Then, he is most successful in the Premier league for dribbles with 10.76 per 90 minutes – 68.97% successful dribbles.

This shows Grealish ability to run and dibbles past defenders and get inside the penalty box.

He has a great record for progressive runs with 5.2 runs per 90 minutes and progressive passes: 6.68 passes 90 minutes.

Defensively, Grealish is sound as well.

He has engaged in 18.37 duels 90 minutes with a success rate of 56.57%, 2.23 ball recoveries per 90 minutes, and 2.78 counter-pressing recoveries per 90 minutes.

But the numbers cannot only determine a player fully – but his leadership qualities on the pitch also make him more impactful than other players.

Finding the space, overlapping the full-backs and defenders, visionary passes – be it short or long, smart off the ball movement, and lift the spirit of the whole unit when the chips are down – make Grealish a complete package.

Grealish has evolved since the last season and one can say that the Englishman has a bright future.