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Should United sign Jack Grealish?

Every person on earth has a fair share of faults and shortcomings. There are negatives and positives to everyone and that just applies to footballers in an equal regard. Every player can have qualities that are lauded by people, but he can have some qualities that are abhorred.

But this rings true for a player like Jack Grealish in so many ways. The Aston Villa man’s flaws and faults are out in the open and it is public knowledge that he hasn’t been the most admirable character during lockdown. But like any other human being, the good in him is also very much there to see.

Around 2018, Aston Villa were facing a financial crisis. There were murmurs of bankruptcy going around and amidst all that, a ray of hope came in the form of Grealish being linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur. Speculation was rife that Villa were demanding a high fee for the Englishman so that they could get enough money to stay afloat.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men failed to sign him, as a bid was rejected. While it was suggested that Grealish was ‘disillusioned’ that he wasn’t allowed to leave, he ended up signing a new contract some weeks later. Despite being close to a Champions League club, Grealish became the leader that Villa were craving for. He led the club’s charge to promotion, contributing to 12 Championship goals and picking up two assists in the play-off rounds.

It was the mark of a young man who had learnt lessons the hard way. Grealish wasn’t far away from controversy as a teenager either. But he learnt from all of it, came back up and led the club back to the top-flight during dark times, captaining them in an exemplary manner.

Fast forward to today, Grealish is already the centre of attention. In a struggling Villa side in the Premier League, the 24-year-old has been the shining light- the guiding light, rather. Dean Smith’s men did spend around £143 million on transfers in the summer of 2019. But they have been heavily reliant on the influence of Grealish and he hasn’t let anyone down on the pitch.

Usually playing on the left side of a 4-3-3, the Englishman has been the driving force in the most literal way possible. He carries the ball forward from deeper areas, sets others up, picks up fouls, commands the other players and goes about all of it with a very almost contagious swagger. Everytime you watch him, there just seems to be something about Grealish that sets him apart from everyone else. He has this authority about him- this aura about him that is just really great to watch.

He goes about things in a gritty manner as if he has just taken responsibility for everything Villa want this season. He always wants the ball and is always looking to do something with it. It is just a constant reminder of his attitude towards the game and how he views the job as. Something like that is pretty tough to have at the age of 24. But it just goes to show how Grealish has matured as a footballer over the years.

He walks about with his socks tucked down and shin pads tightly snuck in- almost like he barely cares. His hair is sometimes dishevelled, but it just fits the way he carries himself. All he seems to care about is saving Villa from relegation this season.

Statistically, the 24-year-old is a highly progressive dribbler. Per FBref, Grealish ranks fourth for total distance of dribbles per 90 minutes out of regular players in the Premier League. His number stands at an impressive 445.4- which is really good for any player on the pitch. Not just that, he ranks in the top ten for progressive distance of those carries- 262, behind three other wide players in Allan Saint-Maximin, Felipe Anderson and Adama Traore.

That is just a reflection of how he is often tasked with carrying Villa from midfield (pun intended) and he does that job exceptionally well. He gets on the ball, doesn’t mess about much and just looks forward until he reaches the final-third.

His ability in the final-third is just as impressive. Grealish ranks fourth for the most shot-creation actions in the Premier League this season- only behind Riyad Mahrez, Kevin de Bruyne and James Maddison. His tally stands at 5.37. The fact that his goal-creation actions tally is 13th best in the league at 0.54 shows that his numbers can easily increase at a better club.

This also proves that apart from being accurate and progressive with his movement of the ball up the pitch, Grealish is just as adept at creation. For many players of his position and age, there are issues about them not having the final ball. But Grealish has none of those problems.

He is favoured by the fact that he used to be more of a central player early on in his career. But over a period of time, he has evolved into someone who can play out wide on a regular basis- even though he does drift into central areas more often.

Villa have had issues with the striker role, as Wesley sustained a serious knee injury. Ally Samatta did arrive from Genk, but he’s now been replaced by young Keinan Davis who is yet to score a league goal. So the lack of a regular centre-forward has impacted Grealish’s output as well.

In many ways, Grealish is the sort of footballer that any club from the Premier League’s top six would love to have. While he certainly does need the freedom to do what he likes in the heart of the park or out wide, his progressive approach to the game is a very attractive aspect of how he plays. He has no issues with the final pass and knows how to drag teams up from bad positions and he has already done that at Villa.

Man United have been heavily linked, of course. He just fits the bill of what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants in a player- personality wise. He’s got this swagger about himself, but he’s still very committed to what he does. From how he’s learnt through the hard ways of life, Grealish has become a hardworking player who has this efficacy in terms of work-ethic.

Tactically, his ball progression can be crucial to United. Solskjaer is determined to build his team in a style that relies on quick attacking transitions, slick movement in the final third and possibly a fluidity among the front three or front four. Grealish is just that sort of player who allows for quick attacking transitions with dribbling or passing. He can arrive centrally or switch flanks. He has the grit which United need in a player, with Solskjaer building a hungry unit.

Marcus Rashford is United’s first-choice left winger. But Grealish’s ability to play in central midfield, attacking midfield or on either flanks is too attractive to pass on. He can either play in the Paul Pogba or in the Bruno Fernandes role in the number ten position. Depth has become an issue for United many times under Solskjaer and Grealish’s signing will get rid of that. More than just depth, he adds quality depth.

And with United likely to play European football next season, Grealish could be the sort of signing they would love.

Kaustubh Pandey


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