Would Jack Grealish be a success at Manchester United as Old Trafford club make him No 1 target?
After such an outstanding season for Aston Villa, there’s every chance Jack Grealish will be spending the first part of his summer with England at Euro 2020.
But that could well prove just the start of the off-season fun and games for the 24-year-old star. He may find any summer holiday he’s planned interrupted by his agent on the other end of the phone.
With reports that Manchester United have made Grealish their No 1 target for the summer window, and interest from other clubs inevitable, we could already have a transfer saga brewing.
Aston Villa star Jack Grealish is Manchester United’s top transfer target for the summer
Grealish is playing an integral role in Villa’s efforts to avoid relegation from the Premier League
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is reshaping his United team and seems to picked Grealish as the next piece of the jigsaw
Grealish could easily have moved last month but was never going to abandon his boyhood club Villa in the midst of a relegation fight.
But the summer will be different. Grealish may be contracted to Villa until 2023 but the prospects of him moving on this summer are increasing with every twinkle-toed contribution and crucial winning goal.
Grealish reportedly has a release clause of £45million in his contract, well within the budget of United and other leading clubs both in the Premier League and Europe.
If Grealish can win a place in Gareth Southgate’s team at the Euros and make a good impression, there won’t be any shortage of enquiries.
His loyalty to Villa, the club he joined as a six-year-old, is beyond question but it feels like the right time for him to move onwards and upwards regardless of whether they stay in the top-flight or suffer relegation.
Grealish certainly fits the profile of player United are trying to sign as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continues his pain-staking rebuild of a squad that was becoming stale.
Grealish helped Dean Smith’s Villa side return to the Premier League and is still excelling
The lifelong Villa fan and captain gives his armband to a young supporter at Brighton
Grealish this season
Matches 27 (23 Premier League, 4 Carabao Cup)
Minutes 2,290 (2,064 PL, 226 CC)
Goals 9 (7 PL, 2 CC)
Assists 7 (5 PL, 2 CC)
He’s still relatively young and United should get the best years of his career. He would still have substantial resale value if he moves on in a few years, though this won’t be of too much concern for United right now.
But above all else, Grealish is an exciting player, a born entertainer who will lift bums off seats at Old Trafford.
Neil Warnock said last month that Grealish would ‘strut’ like Eric Cantona in a United shirt and it isn’t difficult to picture him making magical contributions in a red shirt with his chest puffed out and socks rolled down as always.
United have long lacked creativity in advanced areas and often struggle when confronted with massed defences. It explains their decision to spend a potential £68m on Bruno Fernandes and Grealish could be the next piece of the jigsaw.
United signed Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon last month and Grealish could be next
England manager Gareth Southgate watches Aston Villa’s match against Brighton in October
Grealish has come a long way now from the carefree lad who always seemed to attract headlines for all the wrong reasons a few years back.
In the summer of 2015, aged 19, he was pictured sprawled on the street, apparently drunk and surrounded by cigarette packets, during a holiday to Tenerife.
That was just weeks after the teenager had been instrumental in helping Villa reach the FA Cup final, including an outstanding performance in the semi-final win over Liverpool at Wembley.
It came after pictured emerged of Grealish inhaling ‘Hippy Crack’ from balloons at a party. There was another laughing gas incident in September 2016 during a raucous party in a Birmingham hotel that followed a drab 0-0 draw with Ipswich.
Villa fans and the nation at large feared Grealish might squander his immense talent, but he has matured and put these youthful high jinks behind him to realise his potential on the pitch.
That came just weeks after Grealish had excelled during Villa’s run to the FA Cup final
A life-threatening kidney injury, caused by a challenge by former team-mate Tom Cleverley that caused five hours of internal bleeding and led to four months on the sidelines, proved a turning point.
‘I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason. I came back from that injury a different person,’ Grealish said.
It showed on the pitch, with Grealish in excellent form as Villa reached the Championship play-off final in 2018, only to lose to Fulham.
And he kicked his performances up another gear last season as Villa did make it back to the Premier League, beating Derby at Wembley.
It was no coincidence that Villa went on a club record 10-match winning run, propelling them from the mediocrity of 11th place to a play-off spot, after Grealish returned from a shin injury to be handed the captain’s armband by Dean Smith.
It wasn’t to be for Grealish and Villa in 2018 as they lost the play-off final against Fulham
But 12 months on and it was a different story as Villa beat Derby to return to the top-flight
In all, Grealish scored six goals and contributed eight assists during the promotion season, but an incident in the derby with Birmingham City at St Andrew’s showed how much he had matured.
City fan Paul Mitchell ran on the pitch and punched Grealish in the back of the head. Instead of reacting, Grealish kept his composure and went on to score the only goal of the game.
Any concerns Grealish might not be as effective in the Premier League have been comprehensively dispelled this season.
His nine goals and seven assists are a crucial reason why Villa are just outside the relegation zone and not stranded in it. They’ve also reached the final of the Carabao Cup, where Manchester City await them.
Grealish has scored important goals both home and away against Brighton, in the win at Burnley and in the 2-2 draw with United at Old Trafford in early December.
Grealish was assaulted by a Birmingham City fan during the derby at St Andrew’s last season
But Villa’s captain kept his composure after the incident to score the winning goal
And there will undoubtedly be more to come. Indeed, the clamour for Grealish to be picked by Southgate for the next England squad is becoming deafening.
After England won the tug-of-war for his international allegiance against the Republic of Ireland, it’s taken regular performances of quality in the Premier League for Grealish to be considered.
He should certainly get a first cap and a chance to show what he can do in the March friendlies against Italy and Denmark with a view to being included in the Euro 2020 squad.
But if that move to Old Trafford does come off, where would Grealish fit in?
United have just signed Fernandes to play in the No 10 role, a position the versatile Grealish sometimes occupies. So more likely, he will play on the left of the three in Solskjaer’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.
In a possible taste of things to come, Grealish scored for Villa at Old Trafford in December
His latest achievement was to lead Villa to the final of the Carabao Cup after beating Leicester
This could spell bad news for Anthony Martial because surely Marcus Rashford will be chosen to play as the centre forward, leaving room for Grealish to do his thing on the left.
United may well be able to offer Grealish a first taste of European football when negotiations open, but given their form that is far from a certainty.
That leaves them open to being gazumped by rivals but there’s no doubt United looks a good fit for Grealish. After all, they have a fine legacy for players who love to entertain.
How Grealish could fit into the United side for next season