It's taken far too long but Jack Grealish has finally reached the level it was hoped he’d reach when he made his Aston Villa debut as an 18-year-old.
On a couple of occasions, however, it looked like he’d be one of those who failed to deliver on his early promise.
There was the time he was pictured allegedly inhaling nitrous oxide. He was also pictured on the floor in Tenerife after an eventful night with friends. These incidents contributed to a feeling that off-pitch distractions would stunt his progress, just as they have with numerous others in the past.
Fortunately for Villa, Grealish has matured – both on the field and off it. He’s now captain of the club in the Premier League and an England call-up seems inevitable. Though the Villans have hardly set the top-flight alight this term – they're currently in 17th position – the 24-year-old has been one of the standout players of the season.
COMPARED: Jack Grealish vs. James Maddison in the Premier League so far this season.
Two of England's most creative midfielders. 💫 pic.twitter.com/SvWANOmSLv
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 8, 2020
His form hasn’t gone unnoticed. Tottenham Hotspur are known long-term admirers of the fleet-footed maestro and recent reports claim Manchester United have identified Grealish, along with James Maddison, as the player to fill the creative void in their team. Liverpool have also been linked with the Villa man in the past.
Villa's stay in the Premier League looks like it could be brief. But that doesn’t mean Grealish will follow them back to the Championship. Having showcased what he can do in the top tier, clubs will want to keep him there.
But is he really ready to take that step up? Being a big fish in a small(er) pond suits some. What is viewed as a move in the right direction can stagnate a career. With that in mind, we’ve taken a look at what the numbers tell us about Grealish.
Deployed on the left of Villa's attack, Grealish has been directly involved in 40 per cent of the goals Smith’s side have scored this term. On a per 90 basis, his goal involvement is coming in at 0.58 while his expected numbers (goals and assists) average out at 0.37. He’s overperforming but top talents do.
The takeaway from this is he’s a reliable and regular goal threat. For example, he’s expected to score a goal every 4.5 matches. All while playing for a struggling side. It is likely these numbers would increase if he moved to a more dominant club. And that must be an intriguing thought for any interested teams.
But Grealish is much more than a goalscorer. He's a creative threat, too. His game is well-rounded and this makes him a standout option to clubs looking to bolster their attacking options.
Of the 42 passes he attempts per 90, 2.8 are key. Furthermore, despite playing what can be deemed as risky passes, he's still finding a team-mate with close to 86 per cent. Remarkably, he also completes the same percentage of passes he attempts in the final third.
Grealish has managed to balance progressive and incisive passes with the ability to retain possession. What tends to usually happen is creative players have lower completion numbers; it's accepted as part of the risk.
The Villa No.10 is also an effective dribbler. Not only can he break lines with a pass, he can also cause utter chaos in the final third with his ability on the ball. He's completing 67 per cent of his attempted dribbles. His unpredictability gives him an edge. Stand off him and he'll pick a pass. Get close and he has the ability to bypass the opponent and break into space.
Grealish isn't reliant on pace, and that is part of what makes him such an intriguing player. It's why top teams are weighing up a potential move for.
At 24, it isn't now or never for Grealish. But his stock is at its highest. His performances for Villa show he's at home in the Premier League, something that was an unanswered question heading into the season.
His next step is to see whether he can cut it for a team competing at the top end of the table. With competition for places in the England squad fiercer than ever, the midfield maestro can't afford to get left behind if he has aspirations of being part of Gareth Southgate's long-term plans.