Despite having promising pre-season campaigns, two of the most highly rated Villa youngsters since the turn of the century have found themselves seemingly a long way from the first team picture; having both suffered serious injuries in early August. For Andre Green, the return to action still appears to be a long way ahead, but 22-year-old Jack Grealish has been back training and playing in U23 matches for the last two weeks – and will soon by vying for a recall into the first team.
Unfortunately for Grealish, however, it’s not quite as simple as becoming match-fit. The Villa team that the England International is trying to break into is in a rich vein of form, and none of the players currently involved in the starting XI are showing any signs of dropping to the bench, so Grealish has certainly got a task on his hands. Perhaps somewhat optimistically, we are confident that Grealish will be back in the starting XI this year, and we are going to tell you exactly why.
Since our central-midfield was sent back to Ireland at Molineux, Steve Bruce has employed an additional attacking midfielder instead of an additional striker in a slight change of team shape, which is designed to stop us from being broken down quite so easily. As such, Josh Onomah has been re-introduced to the first team, and this is very important for Grealish’s prospects. As a loanee, and one that Tottenham rate very highly, Onomah will probably be back at Tottenham Hotspur next season… and this leaves Steve Bruce with a big dilemma, because Villa fans are undoubtedly going to ask the question: Does he want to shape Tottenham Hotspur’s future – or Aston Villa’s?
Now, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Josh Onomah is a fantastic footballer, and he will no-doubt having a very good career… but as Aston Villa fans, we all know that we have been here before – using loan players such as Ryan Bertrand and Tom Cleverley to fill the voids in our squad – and in both instances, this has proved to be in detriment of our own youngsters.
Players such as Lenadro Bacuna, Antonio Luna and Gary Gardner all showed promise before finding their places taken by the aforementioned then Manchester United and Chelsea men – and though Cleverley’s career stagnated at Everton, Bertrand has gone on to become an established England International – and it all started at Villa Park. And there is nothing wrong with using the Loan system to kick-start careers! The issue here is that we are Aston Villa Football Club; the fifth most decorated club in the history of English football- not Swindon Town of Notts County. We should be sending our players out on loan; not developing the youngsters of other teams. This, in my opinion, is part of the Lerner legacy that has managed to escape undetected – we became a “selling club” under the American’s premiership, and we need to reverse that in order to regain the respect of fans, players and pundits all around the world.
Back to the original topic then… Jack Grealish. Where does he slot back into the side? Well… it’s very simple. He has to take the place of Josh Onomah – and merit the position. If the two players are lined up side by side with their potential as the only factor under consideration, Grealish would be seen as the better player by every manager who cared to show any interest- simply because he has already proven that he can perform in big games- the FA Cup semi-final vs Liverpool in 2015 is a good example of this- and he has great goal-scoring ability, having netted stunning efforts against Rotherham, Wigan, Leicester City, Brighton and Fulham in his time. This isn’t enough by itself though.
He has to be a player who is willing to usurp Onomah because he wants to give 100% and win every match… and that’s where the issue lies with Jack. His commitment has constantly been questioned over the years- and for very good reason. Partying after a 4-0 lost; collapsing drunk while on holiday; inhaling Laughing gas are not actions that you would typically associate with a footballer who wanted to make a statement of intent. However, is it time for both the disappointed fans and for the coaches who are searching for excuses not to play him to let go of these 2-year-old memories? It is important to highlight the fact that Grealish has kept his nose clean for over two years – and this has coincided with more mature performances on the pitch… maybe it really is time to give an immensely talented player another chance. Goodness knows we gave players like Agbonlahor and Guzan enough.
In conclusion, I am calling for Jack Grealish to replace Josh Onomah in the first team for two big reasons:
- He is a better player.
- He is one of our own!
Grealish may well be a Villa player for five, ten, maybe even fifteen years – Onomah will be a Villa player for little over 6 more months. I personally feel that Jack Grealish still has the chance to become a superb football player – but he will only fulfil his potential if Bruce decides to value one of our own who will show loyalty and give 100% for the club over a player who is using us to prove his value to the Premier League.
Let’s not repeat the mistakes we made with Steven Davis and Marc Albrighton.