2013- Aston Villa, Free, 213 (32) |
AT A GLANCE
Jack Peter Grealish
Sunday, 10 September 1995
Solihull, West Midlands
Sunday, 1 July 2012
Paul Lambert |
Tim Sherwood |
Rémi Garde |
Roberto Di Matteo |
Steve Bruce |
Dean Smith |
First Squad Appearance
Wednesday, 7 May 2014
Wednesday, 7 May 2014
Sunday, 13 September 2015
Final Squad Appearance
(5 ft 7 in) 1.75 m
2014-15 FA Cup Runners Up |
2017-18 Play Off Finalists |
2018-19 Play Off Final Winners |
2019-20 League Cup Runners Up |
Player #870 for Aston Villa, Jack Peter Grealish has played as a midfielder for the club since Villa’s 2013-14 Premier League season.
Jack was born on 10 September 1995 in Birmingham, the great grandson of the great Villa centre forward Billy Garratty - 258 appearances and 112 goals between 1897-98 and 1907-08.
Jack joined Villa as a schoolboy before signing professional forms with the club in July 2012 aged 16.
Jack was promoted to the first team by Alex McLeish as a 16-year old in Villa’s 2-4 home defeat to Chelsea on Saturday, 31 March 2012 however Grealish remained an unused substitute.
That first team outing would prove to be Grealish’s first and last for over two seasons as with McLeish replaced by Paul Lambert at the end of Villa’s 2011-12 Premier League campaign, Lambert didn’t name Grealish in a squad for the entire 2012-13 season as he preferred to build the team around young, lower league imports in a strategy that confused many.
Lambert sent Grealish out on loan during the 2013-14 season to League Notts County where he scored 5 goals in 37 appearances and helped the Magpies avoid a relegation that had seemed certain. On an off the field Grealish left an impression on his new environment.
Then Notts County manager Shaun Derry “My favourite memory of Jack … encapsulated everything he is about both as a player and a person. First of all, the goal he scored was above the level we were at which was League One and when you look back at it, it was unbelievable. There was the double shimmy, taking his man on the outside and he finishes magnificently. But he then goes all the way around Meadow Lane to celebrate.
“He raced into the stands to hug his dad and I remember him getting booked for it. There were so many outstanding memories of managing Jack throughout that season, but that was the one. It was not just about the brilliance of what he had just done on the pitch, but it was then having the humility of who he wanted to share it with. When we went in after the game, I said ‘do you know what, it was just like watching a little boy who wanted his dad’. He didn’t want the rest of the players. He wanted the people who helped him reach the levels of where he had got to and, for me, that tells you everything.”
Team-mate and then Notts County captain Alan Sheehan “When he came in, obviously none of us knew much about him, but I remember we were training at Highfields and, at the time, we had to drive down there in our kit because there were no changing rooms. And as soon as I saw him there, it was his physique that immediately hit you.
“He was wearing these Nike boots, he was given the ball and then he started dribbling. I thought 'wow' this guy moves and plays differently from anything I’d ever seen. It was effortless and there were some days in training when, as a defender, it was just painful. You would be like ‘stay away from me today, please
“In one of his first games, I am stood there watching him just glide past defenders, experienced ones too. There was no fear. Nothing fazed him. Just give him the ball and off he went. At that point, I knew this kid was the real deal. For a large amount of that season, we played down the left-hand side together and we struck up this wonderful relationship.
“Every time I had the ball, he was the first pass I looked for. I’d give it to him, teams would double up and sometimes he would take the two of them on. If not, he laid it back to me and I put the ball in the box. It was quite simple back then because that’s the way we played most of the time. But honestly, man, I loved him. I loved everything about him. The way he carried himself on and off the pitch was always confident but never arrogant.”
It would not be until the end of the 2013-14 season that Lambert would finally call Grealish up to the Villa first team squad and Grealish finally made his debut as an 88’ substitute for Ryan Bertrand in Villa’s 0-4 away defeat to Manchester City on Wednesday, 7 May 2014. Grealish was now aged 18 and had spent the majority of the 2013-14 on loan at Notts County making 37 league appearances and scoring 5 goals.
The clamour for Grealish to be included in the Villa squad on a regular basis was strong however Lambert, a conservative and pragmatic exponent of football, continued to prefer his own lower league signings to Villa’s brightest prospect.
Grealish made the Villa squad for the final game of the 2013-14 campaign but remained an unused substitute as Lambert’s side once again suffered a heavy defeat - 0-3 at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, 11 May 2014.
Ahead of Villa’s 2014-15 Premier League campaign, Paul Lambert instigated a total about turn on transfer policy. Gone were the lower league imports and in came an equally unfathomable approach - signing ageing, faltering and in some cases downright failed players with ‘Big 6’ club history but who had long ago discarded them. In such a circumstance the demand for Grealish to be granted playing time could no longer be ignored and as a result Lambert finally gave 19 year old Grealish an extended run in the side.
Paul Lambert wouldn’t last the season before being sacked after two and a half seasons of below par performances but across his final 28 games he named Grealish in the Villa squad on 20 occasions giving Jack 10 substitute appearances and 2 starts, the first of which came in the 0-1 League Cup 2nd Round defeat to Leyton Orient on Wednesday, 27 August 2014.
Grealish’s second start for Villa, and his last under Lambert, came in Villa’s 1-0 FA Cup 3rd Round win over Blackpool on Sunday, 4 January 2015.
With Lambert gone, his successor, Tim Sherwood, who operated a more attack minded, free for all, confidence based football, continued to use Grealish from the bench, granting him 2 substitute appearances across his first 6 games in charge before promoting Grealish to the starting line up for Villa’s 3-3 Premier League draw with Queens Park Rangers.
That first Premier League start for Grealish was the beginning of his longest spell in the side and he went on to be an ever present starter for all nine matches to the end of the season including two Wembley appearances as Villa vanquished Liverpool with Grealish to the fore in the FA Cup semi final on Sunday, 19 April 2015 and in the FA Cup Final itself when Arsenal proved too strong for Villa and stopped them winning their eighth FA Cup.
Along the way Grealish had contributed his first assist, laying on Tom Cleverley’s goal in the 31’ of Villa’s 1-0 win over West Ham United on Saturday, 9 May 2015.
Whilst Grealish had undoubtedly thrived under the more positive football of Sherwood it was a surprise when the interim manager Sherwood was kept in post for the 2015-16 season and with a major, though disjointed overhaul of the squad having taken place in the close season, it was not clear where and how often Grealish would appear in the first team.
Villa’s recruitment for the 2015-16 generally consisted of sub-standard Villa signings that maligned the club throughout the 2015-16 campaign and drove Villa to their first relegation in nearly 30 years. Players such as Micah Richards, Jordan Ayew, Adama Traoré, Rudy Gestede, Joleon Lescott and José Ángel Crespo were brought to the club despite being nowhere near the standard for a top flight player and Villa paid the price.
After overcoming an early season injury however there was still a place for Grealish under Sherwood and he went on to make 7 starts and 2 substitute appearances in Sherwood’s 12 games before being sacked in October 2015 with Villa floundering in the relegation zone. Despite the team’s troubles, Grealish had scored his first goal as Villa built a 2-0 lead at Leicester City on Sunday, 13 September 2015 only for the abject defence that Sherwood had built to collapse and result in a 2-3 defeat for Villa. One of eight defeats in 12 games that saw Sherwood relieved of his duties.
Caretaker boss Kevin MacDonald named Grealish in both of his squads, handing him one start and one substitute appearance but the defeats kept coming and by the time of the arrival of Rémi Garde the team and club were in complete disarray with relegation likely, if not yet totally certain.
Garde named Grealish as a starter in his second game in charge as Villa lost 0-4 at Everton on Saturday, 21 November 2015 and it would appear that at this point Garde lost faith in the player as he was handed just two Premier League substitute appearances in the 78’ and 81’ and one start across the next 12 games as this most torrid of Villa sides plummeted to relegation not creating, not scoring but conceding with alacrity.
Whilst he was available, Garde had wasted the opportunity to give Grealish more game time and by the point that it was obvious Villa would be relegated Grealish was injured. By the time he returned to fitness the hapless Garde was gone and caretaker manager Eric Black was given the task of carrying Villa over the relegation line. Black reinstated Grealish to the first team squad but used him solely as a substitute in 5 of the last 7 games of this most miserable of seasons.
Ahead of 2016-17 and Villa’s first campaign in the second tier for nearly 30 years there was great expectation that a team could be built around and harness the undoubted talents of Grealish to help Villa to an immediate return to the top flight.
Villa with a new manager in Roberto Di Matteo and an influx of new players struggled to adapt to life in the Football League Championship with the remnants of the team that had failed so badly the previous campaign still at the club. Grealish however embarked on his longest run in the first team and though Di Matteo’s reign lasted only 12 games, Grealish contributed 2 assists to a team that was finding goalscoring a problem.
With the arrival of Steve Bruce as Di Matteo’s successor Grealish was retained in the starting line up before having to serve a 3 match ban during which Villa started their best run of the season, unbeaten in 7, winning 4, with Grealish returning to secure two wins and a draw.
Grealish then hit the 88’ winner for Villa in the 1-0 victory over Wigan Athletic on Saturday, 10 December 2016, playing in nine of the next 10 fixtures before having to serve yet another ban, Villa however at this point had started to struggle and it looked like another managerial change could be on the cards with Steve Bruce posting 8 losses in 10 games - the sort of form that 2015-16 had seen.
Bruce’s reaction was to tighten up on creativity, playing new arrivals Henri Lansbury, Conor Hourihane and Mile Jedinak ahead of Grealish with Jack making just a single substitute appearance across the next 7 games, coming on in the 33’ of Villa’s 2-0 win at Rotherham United on Saturday, 4 March 2017 for the injured Birkir Bjarnason only to get injured himself and be replaced by Jordan Amavi on 44’.
Things then weren’t going well for Grealish, given his first opportunity as 16 year old, seeing his first managerial change, not given an opportunity by the successor, experiencing another managerial change, being imbued with confidence and leading Villa to an FA Cup final to only see another change at the top and a decimated squad collapse to relegation, another 3 managerial changes and a new boss who couldn’t fit Grealish into his pragmatic football.
Despite the promise there were now real doubts as to whether Villa would waste the undoubted talents of Grealish with 6 years into his first team career having seen only backwards progress in the team around him.
Grealish had other ideas though and played in all of Villa’s final six games of the season as they continued to readjust to life in the Championship, hitting two goals to end the season on a career best five and with hopes high once again for 2017-18.
Steve Bruce had done a sterling job in clearing the decks of the last remnants of the dross that had infected the Villa squad over the last half decade, and though his football was pragmatic rather than pretty, he had assembled a team worthy of the Championship and worthy of the Villa shirt. With Grealish expected to be at the fore there was genuine optimism at Villa Park for the first time in nearly a decade but the season started as a disaster for Jack, injured for the first 18 games he could take no momentum from his fine end to 2016-17 and would only return to the team in November as a substitute.
Bruce brought Grealish off the bench on five occasions through to December 2017 with Grealish contributing his first assist of the season for Henri Lansbury to score the equalising goal at Leeds United on Friday, 1 December 2017.
Thereafter Grealish made 26 appearances to the end of the season with 22 starts as Villa recorded their best run of Championship results to date with Grealish scoring three goals and creating five as Villa finished a far more healthy 4th to qualify for their first ever Play Off campaign.
Grealish, the stand out player on both sides in the Play Off Final with Fulham on Saturday, 26 May 2018 was subject to vicious attention by the West Londoners and with next to no protection or prevention from the referee, Grealish was kicked, stamped and manhandled throughout the game as a subdued Villa fell at the last despite the opposition belatedly being reduced to 10 men. There was still time however for Grealish to produce a trademark slalom run through the Fulham midfield and defence before having his effort on goal saved at full stretch.
Despite the disappointment of missing out on promotion to the Premier League, far greater concerns suddenly hit Villa with the revelation that the club was technically insolvent and likely to need to undertake a fire-sale of players to just stay afloat. With Grealish as the most marketable asset, the media had him sold and signed to Tottenham Hotspur even before Villa had left the district of Wembley however the arrival of Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens as new owners and the searing ambition they had for Villa, kept Grealish at the club and out of the clutches of the vultures.
Still a player who delivered in spells, Grealish faced a new challenge in 2018-19, to step up and truly lead the club forward. No longer could Grealish live on potential, now he needed to deliver on Villa’s new owners’ faith and ambition.
Jack did not disappoint and matured on the pitch beyond measure in 2018-19 helped in no small part by the arrival of midfield dynamo John McGinn with whom Grealish struck up an almost immediate partnership on and off the pitch.
Grealish owned the Championship in 2018-19 but it wouldn’t be until Steve Bruce’s departure - having become increasingly erratic in behaviour and results on the pitch - and the arrival of Dean Smith that Grealish really took off. By that time Grealish had missed 14 games through injury but on his return, and now captain of the team, Jack led Villa to a record breaking 10 consecutive league wins, qualification for their second successive Play Off final and promotion back to the Premier League after three seasons away.
Jack had hit 6 goals and created 7 more however his contribution went way beyond pure statistics with his presence a constant threat to the opposition, able to glide past even the sturdiest of defences and keep Villa in the ascendancy.
2019-20 saw Grealish back in the top flight with his boyhood club as captain and talisman. Villa’s Premier League campaign however was a nervous one, the team that gained promotion the previous season was a largely ageing one and by necessity Villa needed to bring in a raft of new players that required bedding in.
Dean Smith remained steadfast to his attacking, possession based football philosophy but there was a steep learning curve for Villa as games such as being 2-0 up at Arsenal, 1-0 up against Champions elect Liverpool, after 88’, ended in defeats as a developing side hadn’t quite gelled. As a result Villa, somewhat surprisingly, and mostly due to individual errors found themselves in a relegation dog fight in which Grealish excelled. Leading his team by example and frightening even the most decorated of Premier League defences.
Whilst the media continued to link Grealish with a move away on an almost daily basis Jack’s only focus was on Villa and Premier League survival and he was at times single handedly earning Villa points, driving the team forward with spellbinding skills and strength and contributing 10 goals and 8 assists, including the crucial goal on the final day of the season that secured Villa’s Premier League safety.
2020-21 began with great optimism as Dean Smith continued to improve his squad, it took little time to see that Villa were a transformed side and that if it was even possible, Grealish had become an even better player.
In the 7-2 win over Champions Liverpool on Sunday, 4 October 2020 Jack became only the second Villa player to assist three goals in a single Premier League game, after James Milner v Burnley in February 2010.
By mid December, Jack had five assists and six goals for Villa and made his 199th appearance for the club in the 3-0 thrashing of West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.
Grealish’s gameplay, always impressive, was now becoming so strong that comparisons were being made to Gazza in his prime.
The statistics bore this out with Grealish having created 38 chances from open play in the the 2020-21 league campaign through to 20 December 2020 - more than any other player across Europe’s big five leagues.
Grealish had also been fouled more times than any other player in the Premier league in the 2020-21 season (55 times) and had seen more players receive a red card for tackles on him than any other player since the start of the 2019-20 season (4).
Grealish made his 200th appearance for Villa in the Boxing Day 2020 massacre of Crystal Palace at Villa Park.
Grealish then is a true Villa great and we’re getting to live through it. Having only just turned 25, and having had to work for everything he has achieved in some very trying circumstances, there are unbounded possibilities ahead of him in the claret and blue of Villa.
A shin injury, suffered in the build up to Villa’s game with Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday, 13 February 2021, an injury that would be aggravated during the game and would keep Grealish out of the side for the longest period since the 2018-19 EFL Championship game. In Grealish’s absence found form difficult to come by and having been expected to return to match fitness after the March International break Villa suffered a setback that would keep him out of contention for the first team for an extended period.
With 209 Appearances and 32 goals to his credit Grealish had overtaken Villa greats Alan Hutton, Ian Ross, Albert Evans, Juan Pablo Ángel, Gary Shaw and Andy Gray and was closing in on the greats of Con Martin (212), Paul Birch (217), Dennis Hodgetts (218) and Stiliyan Petrov (221) before his injury struck.
Still someway short of his great-grandfather Billy Garraty’s Villa appearance record (258) it was to be hoped that a fit Grealish would return before the end of the 2020-21 campaign and be fit and fresh to eclipse Garraty’s Villa appearances in 2021-22.