Could In Demand Jack Grealish Inspire Aston Villa to FA Cup Glory?
Jack Grealish’s senior career may be only a few months old but he’s set to face a few weeks that, in terms of scale, will be difficult to match for several years. They are also a few weeks that will aptly hark back to the past, and perhaps set his future.
First of all, the Aston Villa youngster will play in Saturday’s FA Cup final against Arsenal, gracing the exact same fixture as his great grandfather Billy Garraty did for the exact same club back in 1905.
It would be quite a mental weight for a mere 19-year-old, were it not for everything else going in his career right now. Because, just eight days later, Grealish’s two countries will meet in a high-profile friendly. A Dublin match between Ireland and England may be long overdue since the trouble at Lansdowne Road back in 1995, but it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Villa player. He’s under hugely unfair pressure to make a decision on who he will declare for, despite himself stating that he will not do so until September.
Irish manager Martin O’Neill actually went and called Grealish up for that game, only for the youngster to re-iterate he would not be forced into making his choice, while Roy Hodgson floated the idea of doing the same.
It's a lot to be dealing with, but then he does have a lot of talent.
As with all young players, there is obviously a danger of getting a little too carried away from a few early performances, but the deeper point with Grealish beyond his obvious talent is the way he carries himself.
He just isn’t fazed, which is why he’s so capable of applying that talent regardless of the stakes. Tim Sherwood was given an indication that straight away, when he told Grealish he would be making his first start under the new Villa manager back at the start of April. There was no innocent delight at the breakthrough, nor was there anxiety about performing. There was only assurance and an impudent element of impatience. “What took you so long?” he said to Sherwood.
Grealish certainly showed he needed no adjustment time. He started to run games, and the assurance can be seen in his stats.
One of them is simply remarkable for a player of his age. Grealish has a pass completion percentage of 92.7% - the highest in the Premier League. Even allowing for statistical anomalies, it is rare for someone that young to be even close to that accurate. It shows his composure. It is also little wonder that he is also the fourth most fouled player in the league, suffering 2.3 knocks per game. Only Eden Hazard (3), Raheem Sterling (2.7) and Sadio Mane (2.5) have been taken down more.
Opposition sides know he is already Villa’s main playmaker, the creativity they had needed for so long.
The semi-final victory over Liverpool only emphasised that. Grealish was the player linking it all together, creating angles and opportunities for runs that simply didn’t exist in the side before.
“He’s a very talented footballer,” Hodgson recently enthused, summing Grealish up well. “He can manipulate the ball in tight areas. He’s a very technically gifted player who seems to play without fear. He seems to be a very strong-minded and confident individual.”
He could well be the key individual on Saturday. Basically, if Villa are to have any kind of chance of upsetting Arsenal in the way they did to Liverpool, they’re going to need Grealish on that kind of form.
It isn’t much of a stretch to say their attacking structure has already started to depend on him. Even someone as physically imposing as Christian Benteke greatly benefits when he has the Solihull youngster to release him.
There’s also the fact that Grealish operates in the area of the field that has consistently been a weak point for Arsenal. Although Francis Coquelin has come on in the last few months, there’s been a little bit of a regression of late, and he can struggle with a certain type of creator.
Grealish looks a creator to give almost anyone problems.
This is a big day.