Aston Villa

Aston Villa

Premier League • England

Jack Grealish to Aston Villa? Reasons for and against stunning return

Ryan Baldi
Jack Grealish, Unai Emery

TT debate a potential Aston Villa return for Jack Grealish

Three years on from his British-record £100million move to Manchester City, Jack Grealish is on the cusp of adding a third Premier League winners’ medal and a second FA Cup triumph to a trophy haul that also includes victories in the Champions League and Club World Cup.

Yet reports have emerged suggesting the 28-year-old England winger could be sold this summer, with former club Aston Villa among his potential suitors.

When Grealish left Villa in 2021, they were a mid-table outfit who had narrowly avoided relegation back to the Championship the previous season – thanks to his goal in a 1-1 draw with West Ham on the final day of the campaign.

Now, they are fourth in the table and will be playing Champions League football next season.

So should the Midlanders attempt to re-sign their former captain this summer? Here are the arguments for and against a Villa return for Grealish.

Why Emery should get Jack Grealish

After sealing qualification for the Champions League for the first time since 1983, back when the competition was known simply as the European Cup, Villa manager Unai Emery and sporting director Monchi will soon begin plotting summer reinforcements for next season’s continental campaign.

And while Emery has built his managerial reputation on European success, most of the players currently at the Villa boss’ disposal have little or no experience in Europe’s premier club competition.

Bringing back Grealish would not only be a statement of intent in the transfer market, a demonstration of the club’s spending power and ability to attract top-level stars, but the 28-year-old would also add some much-needed experience playing in the echelons Villa are about to enter.

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Grealish is, of course, a Champions League winner thanks to his part in City’s Treble triumph last season. He started and played every minute of the 1-0 victory over Inter Milan in the final at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul. He has appeared 28 times in the competition in his three years in Manchester, not to mention the top-level experience that comes with 35 senior England caps and appearances in a World Cup and a European Championship.

He might no longer be the same player who used to light up Villa Park, with many of the maverick tendencies that made him so beguiling as a youngster coached out of his game by Pep Guardiola, but the current incarnation of Grealish – the more disciplined, experienced veteran of the European game – could be of even greater value than the one who once fired them back into the Premier League and kept them there.

Why Villa should avoid going back for Jack

Villa have been hugely impressive this term, displaying a tactical malleability under Emery that has seen them adapt to opponents on a week-to-week basis – at times defending deep and counter-attacking; at other times pressing high and playing on the front foot – and getting career-best performances out of their top players.

The Midlands side have evidenced a sustainable approach to team-building that proves it is possible to compete with the Premier League’s so-called Big Six without the help of a Russian oligarch or Middle Eastern royalty. They have focused, predominantly, on young players signed at value from Europe – such as Leon Bailey, Pau Torres and Moussa Diaby – and the development of players either reared in the club’s academy or bought by the previous regime.

Re-signing Grealish, even if the England star is attainable for a fraction of the fee Villa received for him three years ago, would be a glaring swerve away from the transfer strategy that has been so successful for the club.

Whereas their recent dealings have largely seen them bring in players with high potential and strong resale value, whose athletic and footballing peaks remain in the future, Grealish is a player who will turn 29 in the early weeks of next season and is coming off a disappointing campaign blighted by injury and underperformance.

Jack Grealish, September 2022

A total of 11 league goals and 11 assists over the last three seasons represents a meagre return for City’s vast investment. And with just 10 Premier League starts and tallies of three goals and one assist for the 2023-24 campaign, Grealish’s stock is at a low ebb.

What’s more, Emery’s Villa are barely recognisable from the side that Grealish thrived in before his departure. Under Dean Smith, the gifted winger was afforded free reign to express his dribbling gifts, to roam free in the final third and exploit spaces and weaknesses in the opposition, to remain relatively unburdened tactically. It was easier to give a player so talented such a long leash within a team who, at the time, had recently been promoted to the Premier League and whose aim to was to avoid relegation.

Under Emery, Villa are a much more tactically astute outfit. Each player’s role is more strictly defined and forms a crucial piece of a greater whole – much like Pep Guardiola’s system at City, in which Grealish hasn’t quite blossomed.

And although he does so from a higher, more central starting position, the areas in which Grealish operates – namely the left flank and inside-left half-space – are also where Ollie Watkins tends to do his best work. Reintroducing the past Villa Park icon would be to the detriment of the club’s current best player.

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