Everybody expects Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish to leave the club this summer. That's not necessarily a newsworthy story. Everybody expected Grealish to leave Aston Villa last summer as well, but he stayed put. In this age of footballing mercenaries, Grealish is unfashionably loyal. He grew up in Birmingham as an Aston Villa supporter, and becoming captain of his hometown club was always his dream. Having achieved that dream, he doesn't feel any burning desire to give it up, and there's no suggestion he's unhappy at Villa Park. It is, therefore, something of a surprise to see reports that he's already agreed to join Manchester City.
Such reports should - for now, at least - be taken with a pinch of salt. The newspapers said that Grealish would move to Manchester last summer as well, only last time it was Manchester United that was said to be his destination. Now, those same papers will tell you that next season he'll line up in sky blue rather than the red of United or the claret of his current club. Reports that he'd already joined City cropped up a few months ago, too - before he even linked up with the England squad for the Euro 2020 tournament. They were unfounded then, so what's to say they're not baseless now? On the other hand, how could there possibly be so much smoke without any fire?
Transfer rumours sell sporting publications and attract clicks to websites. That's why so many of them turn out to be inaccurate. Paul Pogba has been said to be leaving Manchester United every summer since he rejoined the club, and yet he'll almost certainly be there on the opening day of the season in a few weeks time. Cristiano Ronaldo is tipped to rejoin United every season too, and yet every season he fails to return to the English Premier League. We could say the same about Gareth Bale, who's been linked with more clubs by the press than he plays golf with. It's tempting to dismiss this as more sensationalism and click-baiting, but there might be something to the story this time.
Like a broken clock, the football media are right every once in a while. Perhaps that's unfair. Maybe it would be kinder to compare them to the whirling reels of an online slots game. The press always has all the ingredients of the right story, just as the right symbols always exist when you play online slots. Ask anyone who's ever played online slots, and they'll tell you that having the right symbols isn't especially useful if they won't land in the right order. Only when you get a perfect matching set will you be paid the jackpot in online slots, and so the press goes in search of a perfect story. They know Grealish is wanted at Manchester City. They know that he'll probably leave eventually if he wants to test himself at the highest level in the UEFA Champions League. With those factors in mind, they gamble that this is the season it will happen and then pat themselves on the back if the gamble pays off and the move occurs.
It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not with this story. For every report that says personal terms have already been agreed and discussions about a fee between the two clubs are at an advanced stage, there’s another that says the parties involved are miles apart. The Daily Mail claims that Manchester City’s representatives are yet to make an opening bid. Even then, their reporter claims to have insider knowledge. Their sources say that City will make a bid of around £75m, but that Villa is likely to ask for a sum closer to £100m. A difference of £25m is chump change to Manchester City. If the Mail has it right, it's likely that a deal will eventually be made. What, though, are the chances of them being right?
The first thing we have to consider is the fact that Grealish's stock has never been higher. He's one of the most popular members of the England squad - a player that the crowd chant for when he's not involved in the starting lineup. He's an excellent creative midfielder who, at the age of 25, is about to enter the peak of his career. He's remained loyal to Villa for years, staying with them when the club was relegated from the English Premier League and enduring the long wait to be promoted again, but he has ambitions. As much as he loves Villa, he knows he's never likely to win major trophies so long as he remains a Villa player. It then becomes a question of what Grealish places more value on - staying at Villa forever and becoming an all-time club legend or having medals to look back on with his grandchildren when he's old and retired?
Another thing to consider is the financial side of the situation. Aston Villa is a club built on a sound, sustainable financial base, but it doesn't have the resources of Manchester City. A figure between £75m and £100m is enormous to them. They could use that money to considerably improve their playing squad, which performed admirably during the first half of last season only to tail away toward the end and finish mid-table in the Premier League. Grealish is undoubtedly their star player, but a transfer fee of such size could be enough to buy between four and five high-quality players to make improvements all over the pitch. They, too, have an important question to answer. Is it better to have one player who's so much better than all of his teammates or three or four players of better quality than the rest who can raise the performance level of the whole team?
Given that Manchester City have lots of midfielders and are in dire need of a new striker, it seems odd that they're seemingly ready to break the bank for yet another midfielder. It's not easy to picture where Grealish slots into the starting eleven unless someone like Riyad Mahrez is told that it's time to move on this summer. If he does, it's said that Arsenal would be very interested in the Algerian. He might be less interested in them. Without solid confirmation that there's a move in the works for Grealish, we have to call this story fantasy for now - but we reserve the right to change our minds in a week or so!
Published by Simon Hopes