The dust has settled, the elation has faded and it’s now time to look ahead to next se… who am I kidding?!
I’m writing this two days after the Playoff Final and even Google’s location services have me situated on cloud nine. Apart from the Intertoto Cup, which at the age of 3, does not hold a place in my memories, this is the first trophy that Aston Villa have won in my life time. Prior to monday, cup finals had only been enjoyable until they began, and quickly descended into the stuff of nightmares. As it turns out, winning is absolutely bloody glorious.
There is, however, one Villa fan who seems to be enjoying our success even more than the rest of us; this article means to situate him firmly in the category of Aston Villa legends.
Jack Grealish – The Player
If we focus on Grealish, purely as a footballer and forget about all his other merits, I would strongly argue that he remains a legend of the club. It has been years since Villa have possessed such a technically gifted player and it is a pleasure to watch him every week. He picks out passes that, as fans, we cannot even see from the crowd (like his assist for the first goal against Derby) and is the basis of most our passing play. When in possession, Jack could not ooze more confidence and composure, he literally glides around the pitch as if he is the only one on it.
At least, that is the case until he is inevitably fouled. But he does not bite back, he is consistently far and away the most fouled player in the Championship yet his committment and mentality prevents him from biting back at those who kick him. We know that players are literally sent out to foul Grealish, Chris Wilder even acknowledged this before the playoff final when discussing how Grealish can be tamed. It is a testament to Jack’s mental fortitude that he answers his critics with the ball; one punch will never knock him out. I have never seen a player rile up opposition fans as much as Grealish does. They simply can’t handle the fact that their players have to resort to fouling to get near our star. Entire fanbases of grown men tweet about Jack months after he has sent them home with no points, Leeds fans and Blues fans will no doubt be holding hands whilst singing about him being a cheat next year. Unfortunately for them it will be Championship football that is played on their respective pitches and delusion that is being played out in their heads.
His growth in a Villa shirt is another reason why, for his exceptional ability alone, he can be considered an Aston Villa legend. Jack started out as a fresh faced left midfielder who literally defined the term ‘lightweight’. His transition into a central role has been quintessential to Villa’s success. A player with the level of talent that he has needs to be on the ball, this change of position has allowed Jack to dictate the play and control the tempo of the game. It has been a privilege to watch him develop into the best central midfielder in the Championship and the fact he has not been called up to the England squad tells you far more about the selection process than about Jack. I’ve no doubt this will change next year, when he is in the league that players get chosen from.
Footballers can also gain ‘legend’ status by scoring big goals and performing in the biggest of games, Jack has certainly done this. The first example of Grealish’s big game temperament came in April 2015 when he was a vital third of the attacking trifecta that left Liverpool in the dirt. For me, that was the game when I knew we had something special on our hands. Since then, you cannot count the times he has made the difference in a big game on the fingers of one hand; certainly not if you live outside of Small Heath anyway…
Who could forget his first time Volley crashing in off the post against Cardiff last year?
Who could forget the way Jack remained seated whilst laughing at the sad little man who assaulted him, before getting back to his feet and scoring the winning goal infront of a silent St Andrews?
Who could forget his Paul Scholes-esque volley arrowing its way into the top corner against Derby?
Who could forget the way he created and scored Villa’s goal of the season against Rotherham?
I could go on all day, and that justifies the title of this article.
Jack Grealish – The Fan
To have a fan playing for your club is a special and unique experience. You watch someone else successfully living your dream; scoring the goals that you used to stay awake at night picturing; jumping into the Holte in the same way that you imagined you were as you tore around the playground after scoring; and now, triumphantly lifting a trophy decorated with ribbons of a majestic claret and blue persuasion. The connection between players and their fans is important, the connection between Villa fans and Grealish means everything.
Last summer, when the final whistle blew and clappers FC had beaten us, it was not the thought of Championship football that hurt. It was the thought of losing our hero as it seemed inevitable that Jack would have to leave.
But he did not. It became financially viable to keep him and he did not force a move. Gerrard almost left Liverpool for Chelsea in search of trophies; this makes Jack sticking with Villa in the face of Tottenham’s interest all the more impressive. He could have kicked up a fuss and we would have been left with little option but to accept Levy’s criminal valuation; but a club legend would not do that… It must have been difficult watching a depleted Spurs squad reach the finals of the Champions League as he would surely have been involved had he moved, yet that has not visibly phased Grealish.
Instead, it has been Grealish making sure other players do not leave. He lied to one of his best mates to ensure he did not leave in the January window:
“Tammy was close to leaving in January and he kept saying to me when are you going to be back. I had to keep lying to Tammy and saying I would be back by the end of January, when really I knew in my head I wouldn’t be back until March. I just wanted to get the window out the way, so he ended up staying.”
When Grealish finally did come back, he had the captains armband and the impact it has had upon him has been noticeable to say the least. Grealish picked his game up once again and to win all of his first ten games as captain was a phenomenal achievement. You can see how much the captaincy means to him, we know how much it means, because it would mean exactly the same amount to all of us who cheer him on.
Our Jack loves the Villa; his dad was in Rotterdam when we conquered Europe, he himself had a season ticket from the age of 4. He bleeds claret and blue and if that does not make somebody a club legend, then what does…
Jack: The Sesh-head
However, it is in the last 48 hours that Grealish has confirmed the existence another part of himself that is worthy of anyones admiration. After the infamous photo of Jack passed out on the ground after what was clearly a very heavy night on tour, we felt sympathy for him. He was a young lad abroad, what else was supposed to happen. What was sympathy back then, can only be described as respect now. Since we won the final he has embarked on what is quite frankly, the greatest session ever to hit the internet. It appears that he has slept less than the rest of us and has drunk his bodyweight in booze whilst he celebrates getting his boyhood team back to the Premier League; and he is not done yet:
However, as we all know, to become a proper legend you need to achieve something for the club. On monday, Jack ticked the final box and helped promote us back to the promise land, thus ensuring his legend status.
Jack Grealish: Captain, Boozer, Legend.
Thanks for reading and UTV.
By Callum Richardson.
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