There’s been an awakening in the Midlands.
So what are they on about?
Surely not that floppy-haired Aston Villa winger that was half decent for about three matches in 2015?
Well, yes actually, and today were making the case for Jack Grealish to be included in Gareth Southgate’s 23 man squad that will travel to Russia this summer. It’s back! Plane to Russia or Plane to Marbella No.3 – let’s get on with it.
Born in Solihull in the West Midlands, Jack Grealish signed for Aston Villa at the age of six, and progressed through the ranks before being named in the first team on March 31st, 2012 (albeit as an unused sub in a 4-2 defeat to Chelsea). After a brief loan spell at Notts County, where he scored five goals in 37 appearances, Grealish was called back to Villa, and broke into the senior squad under ‘Tactics’ Tim Sherwood, during the 2014/15 Premier League season.
Towards the end of the 2014/15 season, Grealish earned numerous plaudits, with Tim Sherwood famously stating that he wouldn’t sell the youngster for £60 million. It was in the 2015/16 season however, that Grealish became a familiar name to English football fans, when the likes of MoTD and Sky Sports began to include frequent analysis of his performances.
Grealish was one of the stand out players in an otherwise disappointing Aston Villa side, and when the Villains were relegated at the end of the 2015/16 season, many wondered what the future would hold for the talented winger.
If you’ve not been keeping tabs on Aston Villa over the last couple of seasons, you’ve probably forgotten all about Jack Grealish, and aside from a brief newspaper story about the 22-year-old getting into hot water with his club following a late night party in Birmingham, there hasn’t been much to focus on. Over the last few months however, Grealish has been stealing headlines for his impressive on field displays.
It all started last summer, when Grealish suffered a freak injury in a pre-season match against Watford. The injury took a severe turn, and the youngster was forced to undergo a kidney operation that left him hospitalised for 10 days. During the time away from his teammates, Grealish spent hours in the gym and on the training pitch, shedding his ‘bad boy’ image, and vowing to reinvent himself as a capable, reliable, and mature professional. Less of a high-energy winger, and more of a composed, creative attacking midfielder.
When he finally returned to the pitch, Villa went on an impressive seven game winning streak, which peaked with a comfortable 2-0 victory over rivals Birmingham City, in which Grealish was named man of the match. It was arguably the greatest game of his footballing career. When Grealish was ruled out for Villa’s next league game against Fulham, it was obvious that something was missing. Villa lost the match 2-0.
With Aston Villa pushing towards promotion and Grealish back on the radar, his admirers are now asking some big questions of England boss Gareth Southgate.
Back in November, Tim Sherwood became the first pundit to voice his opinion of Grealish’s World Cup chances , describing the midfielder as the creative spark that England need. Sherwood conceded that Grealish was currently ‘way off the scene’, but suggested that if the 22-year-old did enough to get himself noticed, he could force Southgate to make a snap decision. If Southgate needed any further hints, current Villa boss Steve Bruce even compared Grealish to a young Paul Gascoigne earlier this week.
Backing up the hype
There’s no getting around the fact that Jack Grealish has made just 93 appearances in four seasons for Aston Villa, which is far fewer than the likes of Marcus Rashford (109) and Dele Alli (132), who are of a similar age.
In terms of form however, Grealish’s stats are remarkable.
In 15 league appearances this season (six coming off the bench), Grealish has scored one goal and provided four assists. He has created 25 chances, with an average pass accuracy of 85%. There has also been a rapid improvement in his defensive game, winning 56% of his duels, and 34% of his tackles, which is pretty damn good for an attacking player.
In fact, looking at those figures alone, Grealish has a higher average pass accuracy than Premier League playmakers Kevin de Bruyne (83%) and Paul Pogba (84%), and has won just 5% less of his tackles that teammate John Terry (39%) – who is currently experiencing a fantastic season at Villa Park.
Grealish is averaging 2.1 shots per 90, 2.4 key passes per 90, and 2.3 dribbles per 90, whilst completing 1.9 tackles per 90.
Sure, individual stats don’t always tell you everything you need to know about a player, but the consistency of the numbers point towards a footballer that is well balanced going forward, and has a fantastic work ethic off the ball. There’s no denying that Grealish would be a wildcard choice for Gareth Southgate, and certainly a controversial one, but if this season is anything to go by, the 22-year-old will put a shift in, and he will create opportunities to score.
Our verdict: If Grealish’s solid form continues, he has to be considered over the likes of Wilshere, Lallana, and Barkley. He’d be a great option from the bench.
Plane to Russia, but it’s conditional.