Will Jack Grealish make the grade at Aston Villa?
Aston Villa, 3/1 for a top 10 finish, are reportedly ready to offer promising attacking prodigy Jack Grealish a new four-year deal.
The 19-year-old is believed to be a top target for Chelsea as he enters the final 12 months of his current contract, meaning Paul Lambert must move quickly to tie down this young talent.
Grealish appears to have the world at his feet after impressing on loan with League One club Notts County last term. The wingman has already built on last season’s two first-team appearances for the Villains, with three outings in all competitions so far this campaign.
With Blues boss Jose Mourinho supposedly circling, Grealish could be forgiven for being tempted by the bright lights of Stamford Bridge, but should look no further than contemporaries such as Ross Barkley for inspiration.
The Everton midfielder stuck by his boyhood club, amid rumoured interest from several Premier League giants, and has been rewarded with game time he would likely have struggled to secure at a Champions League side.
Grealish need also only glance at the stalled careers of talents such as Jack Rodwell and Wilfried Zaha, who both made moves too early, or the Chelsea talent hoover itself that has resulted in a number of promising players stagnating.
Current Villa man of the moment, and recent England debutant, Fabian Delph has ultimately been rewarded by the understanding that the club hierarchy have shown with his development since a move from Leeds in 2009.
Now the West Midlands Claret and Blue faithful will be savouring the prospect of a new star in the ranks, and Grealish should be heartened by Delph’s patient rise to prominence. The unstable Villa Park hierarchy are not blessed with deep pockets, and Lambert appears to be edging towards a youth policy by blooding Grealish.
Unable to compete with top teams for marquee signings, Villa boss Lambert resorted to delving through the bargain bucket to reinforce his squad this summer. The number of value buys should not be a source of disillusionment for youngsters such as Grealish, but rather an opportunity to stake a claim for squad places and a clearer path to the first team.
The recent loss of highly-rated midfield prospect Dan Crowley, who was plucked from Villa’s academy by Arsenal, will surely still sting, and may encourage Lambert to cling to his fledgling talents more tightly in future. However, the Villans should not place all their eggs in the reserve team basket.
Gabriel Agbonlahor and Marc Albrighton are two examples of Villa products who promised much but failed to live up to the hype and expectations placed upon them. Agbonlahor still plies his trade for his hometown club, but fans will be hoping Grealish belongs to a higher talent bracket.
The Villans need a spark of inspiration, and a homegrown hero such as Grearlish would certainly fit the bill, with current stars Christian Benteke, Delph and skipper Ron Vlaar likely to move on sooner rather than later.
England talent spotters will also have an eye on proceedings at Villa Park, as Grealish’s international future remains unclear. The Birmingham-born wideman is still eligible for the Three Lions, despite representing the Republic of Ireland in youth teams since he was 14.
Grealish, who has a Dublin-born father, has been capped five times by the Boys in Green at Under-21 level, but reports recently suggested he may yet be tempted to switch his allegiance from the Emerald Isle to his own country of birth.
Villa fans, 9/2 to see their club relegated, will certainly be hoping that the Grealish dazzles down the flanks enough to warrant senior call-ups from both nations, but that they can keep him from the clutches of their wealthy rivals.