Jack Grealish is showing Man United exactly what they are missing

Jack Grealish’s career was in reverse after his lockdown car crash shame… 195 days and a dazzling full England debut later, the Aston Villa star is one of the top flight’s brightest lights and he’s showing Manchester United exactly what they are missing

  • Jack Grealish caught the eye with a strong display on his full England debut 
  • The midfielder has come a long way since his car crash fiasco during lockdown
  • The 25-year-old had been tipped to join Manchester United during the summer
  • However, he ended up signing a new five-year deal, with United’s loss Villa’s gain

There was no denying who the star of the show was for England on Thursday night, the shot of a beaming Jack Grealish posing with the Man of the Match award telling you all you needed to know following a mesmerising 76-minute display.

The performance even coaxed a word or two of praise from the lips of boss Gareth Southgate after handing the Aston Villa star his first Three Lions start.

‘You want a player of his ability in and around that final third as much as you can,’ he told reporters after the game. 

Jack Grealish was handed the Man of the Match award for his performance on Thursday night

The Aston Villa midfielder received plaudits across the board as he ran the show against Wales

‘He’s good at receiving deep, but I keep stressing to him that they’re the areas of the game where he can make the difference, and he did that tonight. I’m very pleased for him.’

It is a wholly different emotion to the one Southgate must have felt six months ago, when a moment of sheer stupidity looked to have jeopardised Grealish’s standing, not just within the England squad, but within the English game.

On the cusp of a first England call-up in March, and still firmly in the transfer plans of Manchester United, the 25-year-old almost threw it all away with an ill-judged decision to attend a friend’s party during lockdown.

As if that weren’t the only mistake, the car crash that followed around the Solihull area of Birmingham in the early hours of Sunday March 29 only served to compound the error of judgement.

‘I want to say how deeply embarrassed I am about what has happened this weekend,’ he said in a video statement.

‘I got a call off a friend asking to go round to his. I stupidly agreed to do so. I obviously don’t want anyone else to do the same, so I urge everyone to stay at home and follow the rules and guidelines. I know for a fact that’s what I will be doing now.’ 

It is a scenario that seemed highly unlikely following his lockdown escapades in March

The 25-year-old was involved in an early morning car crash in the Solihull area of Birmingham

His was not the only red face. Southgate had been mulling over whether to give the midfielder his first senior call-up for friendlies with Italy and Denmark, before they were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Grealish’s actions will have left the England manager with the impression he was not ready for the responsibility of wearing the shirt. His subsequent squads and conferences have suggested as much.

Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips was picked ahead of the Villa man in August, a decision that he appeared to take umbrage with judging by a tweet he liked pointing out Southgate’s apparent hypocrisy on the importance of Premier League experience.

That decision in summer will have come down to trust, with the lockdown incident eroding Southgate’s faith in Grealish’s ability to represent his country on and off the pitch.

It left question marks surrounding a player who had never really shaken his ‘Jack the lad’ image following very public holiday and ‘hippy crack’ escapades, despite the presence of the captain’s armband when running out for Villa.

What cannot be questioned, though, is his application since. 

Grealish put the incident behind him to ensure Aston Villa remained a Premier League team

The midfielder scored a vital goal on the final day of the season to ensure the Villans stayed up

Just 195 days on from his lockdown lows, Grealish has switched on, with his football taking off. His performances towards the back end of last season were key to keeping Dean Smith’s side in the Premier League.

His strike on the final day of the season against West Ham helped secure the point that saw them avoid an immediate return to the Championship.

It was the kind of big-game display that saw United retain an interest in him, and which heightened Smith’s fears that he was set to lose one of his most influential stars.

Despite the constant chatter, however, a move to Old Trafford never materialised.

It was no secret that, alongside Jadon Sancho, Grealish was one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s top targets this summer.

From Rio Ferdinand to Ryan Giggs, former Old Trafford icons pushed the case for his arrival.

‘I think the thing with Grealish is he’s obviously used to the Premier League and doesn’t need to adapt to it so that’s good,’ the Wales manager said during a summer of speculation.

‘For me from the outside, it looks like he’s got the mentality to come to this place and not bother him. Certain players can get overawed.’

The boyhood Villa fan signed a new five-year deal at Villa Park, despite interest from United

There were factors preventing United from clinching the deal. By the time the window rolled around, Grealish’s off-field blip was already far in the rear-view mirror.

But the performances of Bruno Fernandes following his arrival from Sportin Lisbon quelled the immediate need for another playmaker and No 10 to dazzle the Stretford End, while it quickly became apparent that financial issues caused by Covid-19 were also wreaking havoc with United’s transfer plans.

As a result, they never troubled the £80million asking fee, and in September the news broke that Grealish had signed a new five-year deal at Villa Park.

It could have been oh so different, the midfielder admitting as much when asked if his future had been 50-50 throughout the summer.

‘Yeah I suppose it was, he admitted to Sky Sports. ‘I had a good season last season, there was interest, but I believe everything happens for a reason and I’ve happened to sign a new contract here, and I’ve got the biggest smile on my face.’

While one man was left smiling, another has been left with a sizeable frown.

Solskjaer’s transfer window was a disaster. The start to their 2020-21 campaign has eclipsed it in the stakes of miserable experiences.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have struggled to control games since the start of the campaign

United have lost two of their opening matches, both at Old Trafford and both in alarming fashion, with little to show in way of creativity during their 3-1 and 6-1 defeats by Crystal Palace and Tottenham respectively.

Watching Grealish go from strength-to-strength in a new-look Villa side will only serve to heighten the Norwegian’s anguish.

His performance alongside Ross Barkley against Liverpool was genuine joy to behold from a neutral perspective, as the pair ripped through what was the meanest of Premier League defences just one season previous.

His flourishing on the international stage too, setting up Dominic Calvert-Lewin on Thursday evening to register his first goal involvement for England, gives the impression that this is a player made for the big stage.

It is thought shared by many, including Sportsmail columnist Micah Richards, who has said he hopes his former team-mate doesn’t come to regret his decision to stay.

For the moment, it looks an astute call, and his form will only see Manchester United circle back around in attempt to prise him away from his boyhood club.

Their fear will be that, next time, they are not the only bidders on the showroom floor. 

Grealish demonstrated his influence with a blistering display in the 7-2 win over Liverpool




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