The Aston Villa captain is enjoying a meteoric rise that doesn’t look like stopping any time soon.
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Socks rolled to mid-shin as the peak of his shin-pads gaze above them. Ankle tape wrapped too high to keep the socks from falling any lower. Bulging calves exposed for an awry stud to stab at. There’s a number of things that make Jack Grealish stand out as a footballer, especially to those who aren’t clued up much with Aston Villa.
But there’s one key thing that makes Jack Grealish the footballing phenomenon that he is. It’s not the winding runs, the close dribbling or the drawing of fouls, although they do add to his game. It’s not his love of the boyhood club that he’s been with since he was old enough to kick a ball, and the current captaining of said side, although they probably do have an impact.
It’s his ability to consistently receive setbacks in his career and come back better and stronger, and even when there is no setbacks, he’s consistently improving anyway. Let me explain what I mean.
Jack Grealish has not had an easy career as a footballer. It’s not been without controversy, injury, heart-ache and more. But each time that the Aston Villa captain suffers a setback, he doesn’t retreat into the depths of his own footballing ability. Instead, he takes the setback for all it is worth, almost draining it and using it to make himself more powerful, like some kind of science fiction villain. It fuels him.
Plenty of footballers have suffered injuries, and horrific ones at that, and plenty of footballers have found themselves in the press, local or national, for controversial reasons. And a lot of the time, these players never truly recover. It’s the age old adage, and is an unfortunate case of modern day football.
Jack Grealish was young, impressionable and foolish when he experienced his controversy, which allowed him to recover from that fairly easily. He took it in his stride, learned from it, and moved on.
But it’s the injuries that have acted more like fuel to the Aston Villa midfielder.
In the Pre-season of the 2017/18 season, Jack Grealish suffered a horrific injury at the hands of former Aston Villa midfielder Tom Cleverley. It was a harmless challenge – but it left Jack’s kidney split in two places and bleeding internally.
The Villa midfielder had surgery to fix the problem, and was told he could die if the procedure didn’t work. Thankfully, it worked and Jack was to sit on the sideline for four months.
But as soon as he was able to, Grealish was training with his former team-mate and now close friend Oli Stevenson, and came back into the game fitter, stronger, and hungrier.
He’s quoted as saying:
“I worked so hard to come back because I missed football. I wanted to be the best I could be. I was in the gym everyday.”
Jack came back and impressed thoroughly, helping Aston Villa to a Play-Off Final at Fulham that the side lost to a single goal.
The summer was a nightmare for the club, player and fans – with financial turmoil and interest from Tottenham Hotspur feeding the fire that Jack Grealish would have to be sold. The midfielder remained, and whilst his early contributions to the season were non-existent – likely due to a mental block after a disastrous summer – he signed a new contract with the club and picked up where he had left off.
With a new manager at the helm a few months later, Jack seemed to get back to his best. That is, however, until another injury set-back.
It had been revealed that Jack had been playing with a shin issue for some time, and after a tackle against West Bromwich Albion, the pain became just too much to bare for the young midfielder. A hairline fracture that would see him miss the early winter months, and possibly one of the most important periods of the season.
In early March, he returned. He still looked strong, but looked like he’d become a little leaner as to carry the ball better. He’d been working hard on the road to recovery once more, and missing his football had just made him hungrier to succeed. He knew everything was still possible, and told Tammy Abraham that to keep him at the club amidst Premier League interest in January.
Buoyed by receiving the captain’s armband and being considered the leader of his boyhood side, Jack Grealish re-announced himself as one of the stand-out young English talents after his time on the sidelines with a thunderous volley on the cusp of half time against Derby County. He went from strength to strength for the rest of the season, being awarded the goal of the season for an effort against Rotherham United. This culminated in him lifting the Play-Off Final trophy against Derby County in May. Fairy tale.
Perhaps it’s not the injuries and setbacks that spur him on. Maybe it’s just missing football. The captain was pictured and videoed during the off-season by his brother working hard on the treadmills in Dubai, ensuring he had some kind of upper hand before returning to Pre-season. And it’s paid off.
In Pre-season, Jack Grealish has looked a different beast to the one that we are used to, in that he seems faster, more agile.
It’s almost like he’s not developing, he’s evolving. Like the caterpillar of football. Every time he comes out of hibernation as something completely different – like any time away from football is fuelling his progression rather than hindering it.
It’s this that makes Jack Grealish a footballing phenomenon. The consistent evolution. The love for his club. The aesthetic, the achievements, the dream.
He’s on his own roller-coaster, and we’re just waiting to buy the fridge magnet at the end.