Jack Grealish goes into Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City as Aston Villa’s captain and golden boy. But it has not always been that way.
No-one would ever question the 24-year-old’s talent, but, while showing flashes of his mercurial talent in his breakthrough days at Villa Park, it was far from guaranteed he would go on to become the player he is today.
Grealish was still a teenager when he hit the headlines, a year before Villa’s relegation, pictured sprawled across an Ibiza road on holiday in 2015. He started eight of the club’s opening 12 games that season, but failed to impress and after Frenchman Remi Garde took over in November, he made only one line-up for the rest of the campaign.
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It was more than a year later – an unspectacular year in the Championship had come and gone – that Grealish would emerge under the wing of former England captain John Terry and begin turning into the player he always threatened to be.
His boyhood side missed out on a return to the Premier League by the width of a Tom Cairney goal in their play-off final defeat to Fulham at Wembley, but Villa kept hold of the youngster, who was increasingly becoming their talisman, despite interest from Tottenham.
Another 18 months on, and with promotion now achieved, Grealish is not only Villa’s captain but their most important player – creating exactly one in four of their chances in their first season back in the big time – and he will lead them out at Wembley for the second time in less than a year this Sunday in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, live on Sky Sports Football.
A Villa vs Man City
March 1, 2020, 3:30pm
Perhaps it is an obvious question. But just how different is Grealish now from Grealish then?
“A lot different,” he tells Sky Sports. “Everything that’s happened in my life, good or bad, football-wise has set me up to be the person I am today. I wouldn’t change anything.
“Everyone knows I’ve had a bit of bad press when I was a bit younger, but I wouldn’t change it. That’s made me who I am today.
“I think I’ve already started [a new chapter]. In the past year, you have certain stuff happen and when I was out injured, I got two bad injuries a couple of years ago, a kidney injury and then I did my shins.
“I was out for three to four months, and when you’re out everything kicks in really, you start to think about what you really want to achieve.
“When I was young I might have been a bit immature, but now I know what I want to do in my career, play for Aston Villa, play for England and win trophies. That’s the aim.”
Despite more than £100m of investment last summer, and more in January with the arrivals of Pepe Reina and Mbwana Samatta, relegation remains a very real possibility for Villa, who have lost their last three Premier League games and are outside the bottom three by just one place, and one point.
That has not stopped Grealish, in his own words, playing the best football of his career and enjoying some career-best statistics; he is already enjoying his best goalscoring season and has contributed six assists despite Villa’s league struggles.
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