The morning of Sunday 19th April 2015 was a time many believed Steven Gerrard was destined to lead Liverpool to FA Cup glory. A parting gift to the club he was about to leave after dedicating the previous 27 years of his life with.
By 5pm later that same day, a 19-year-old Jack Grealish had shot that particular swansong clean out of the Wembley air with an inspired performance.
Aston Villa were later crushed by Arsenal in the cup final a month later, however, there was a sense that Grealish had finally introduced himself on the big stage.
Fast forward three years and the young Villain was once more lighting up Wembley, only for Fulham to spoil his party this time around.
Failure to secure promotion has left the Midlands club dangerously poised heading into this summer. With financial problems mounting, Aston Villa look set to be stripped of their prize asset.
A time to move
As a lifelong Villa fan, Grealish will find it hard to walk away from the club he loves, the club he formally joined aged just six, and the club he has now made 110 senior appearances for.
The existence of player loyalty has become questionable in modern football, but Grealish certainly has a deep connection to his current club.
However, whilst the ideal choice for the midfielder would be to stay with Aston Villa for the foreseeable future, the club are far from residing in a perfect world as it stands.
Not only is the club needing to regain a sense of harmony in their accounts, Grealish too needs to stretch his wings to further his own development.
Following a serious kidney problem last summer, he recovered to shine throughout the second half of last season. Another season of Championship football will only slow down the 22-year-old’s progress though, so a change of scene should benefit everyone involved.
A promising starter
Linked with at least half of the Premier League teams and a handful of European clubs, Grealish appears to have gathered plenty of suitors. What he needs more than anything else, however, is a regular starting place.
The attacking midfielder is now at an age when the word potential will not hold water for too much longer. If he’s to become the player many believe him capable of, the beginning is for him to establish himself as a starter in the top tier.
Since Christmas, Grealish has shown an impressive amount of consistency in his game, but this now needs to be replicated in the Premier League next season. The question is, which team will prove the best fit?
Everton and Leicester City were both mentioned as likely destinations, though each club already has a wealth of attacking midfielders in the playing squad.
Everton, in particular, struggled to manage an overload of number tens in their ranks last year, often to the detriment of their record signing, Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Leicester, too, have more players capable of playing central midfield than any other position, even if Riyad Mahrez leaves The King Power Stadium this summer as expected. Furthermore, both clubs need to strengthen other areas in their team as a priority over another creative player.
Narrowing down Grealish’s choices accordingly, this would leave Newcastle United, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur as the most suitable teams in need of a new player to fill their number eight or ten roles.
An unlikely Magpie
The attacking midfielder has improved his defensive attributes over the past six months, however, he’s still very much an offensive player.
Looking at his last season’s figures may undermine this perception -three goals and eight assists coming from his 31 appearances-, but he’s very much a player who makes things happen for his team.
Newcastle United are in the market for a goalscorer this summer, but a new playmaker is also a priority on Rafa Benitez’s shopping list to provide competition for Ayoze Pérez.
Whilst there are question marks regarding how much financial muscle Benitez will be given this summer, it’s also not a position best suited for the Aston Villa youngster.
Pérez is asked to do a lot of pressing for his team out of possession and making off-the-ball runs to open up space for the wingers when they have the ball. Rather than play as a secondary striker, Grealish is best carrying the ball forward himself, operating more as a box-to-box midfielder and making central runs from deep.
West Ham are a team in need of several players, a creative midfielder potentially one such requirement. If rumours are to be believed, Felipe Anderson is the player who will fill this void for Manuel Pellegrini.
This leaves the current favourites to sign Grealish, Tottenham, looking perfectly suited to swoop in for the midfielder.
With a replacement needed for Mousa Dembélé and a good record of playing and developing talented young English players, it’s little surprise the bookmakers have Spurs at short odds.
Furthermore, Grealish has an impressive talent for passing which would make him an easy fit into Mauricio Pochettino’s playing style. There is another option, however, which could see Tottenham beaten to his signature.
The surprise package
Amongst all English teams linked through the media with making an offer to Villa, there’s one team who have been notably absent. Manchester United and Arsenal have both been mentioned, however, Chelsea haven’t been linked with a move since their reportedly failed efforts of three years ago
While there’s still confusion surrounding which manager will be leading them through next season, a transfer could be authorised from elsewhere within the club. It’s also a club who Villa’s recent captain, John Terry, will likely have greatly talked up to Grealish in recent months.
The £15m signing of Ross Barkley suggests this is exactly the kind of player they are looking to bring to Stamford Bridge. Barkley is also a signing who Chelsea could potentially still recoup their investment on in today’s market.
The Blues are a team currently rebuilding and creative midfielders is an area which they need to re-enforce. With plenty of defensive-minded midfielders already available to surround him in the team, Grealish could be afforded the freedom to operate which he relishes in South London.
Whether wearing blue or Lilywhite, it seems that London could well be calling for Grealish over the coming month.
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