The one who escaped: Jack Grealish was ready for a move to Spurs, but Levy refused to splash the money
It was a done deal eighteen months ago. Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish was ready to take the step and try his hand at a top six club in the Premier League. And Tottenham Hotspur was the destination.
It seemed good for all parties. Villa received a decent compensation – reportedly £ 25 million – for their star asset that had inevitably outgrown the champion club. Tottenham invested in one of the smartest talents of English football and actually made a signature. A true signature of the first team.
But new ownership in the form of Wes Edens and Naseef Sawiris in Villa Park suddenly cast doubt on the move. The new bosses played hardball with Daniel Levy and, somewhat surprisingly, the Spurs chairman did not cough up the required extra resources.
Jack Grealish applauds and says goodbye to the supporters of Aston Villa in August 2018
But 18 months later, Grealish is the prominent player in a Villa side fighting for top-level survival
To this day, that stubbornness looks all too short-sighted and foolish. Grealish thrives in the Premier League and the entire country is impressed, while in Tottenham a sparkling new stadium is not completely matched by a total glare on the field.
First on Grealish, and the man who will be the most in-form player on the field comes Sunday afternoon. With his beloved Villa on the way to the weekend a point outside the relegation zone, it is correct to state that without his efforts, Dean Smith’s side would be in trouble with Norwich.
He has dragged the Villians into a fight to survive with 13 games to go – but it has not always been clear since the start of August.
As always with the fast jump of the second row, it took the skipper Villa some time to find his feet this season.
After seven games in the Premier League, only two help to show. His first competition goal? Matchday eight, in a 5-1 thrashing by Norwich in October. Since then it has been the Jack Grealish show.
Daniel Levy, president of Tottenham, refused to pay the money needed for Grealish’s signature
He flourished, with more permit to walk around and produce the goods further on the field, developing from a number eight to very much from the inside.
His deception and clever weaving with the ball, working and cutting from the left, has seen a relationship with overlapping left wing-back Matt Targett blossom.
JACKET GREALISH IN 2019-20
- Performances: 27
- Goals: 9
- Assist: 7
- Yellow cards: 6
Statistics in all competitions according to Transfer Market
More generally, however, the captain stepped on the board when his side needed it the most, as he strives to lead Dean Smith’s mixed bag of countertop and unreliability to the heavenly point of 40 points.
His goal at Old Trafford in a draw in December was eyecatching, the ball beautifully curled into the top corner past one of the best keepers in David De Gea, who barely moved a muscle.
But last month’s lightning strike with a weaker foot in Brighton saved a point of despair against savage relegation rivals. An equally powerful attempt with his right foot on Burnley on New Year’s Day set the tone for a crucial victory.
Still at the tender age of 24, it feels like Grealish has been around for years and carries the burden of one of England’s most historic clubs. The most striking thing is that he doesn’t nod when the ante goes up. He takes revenge, thrives and galvanizes.
Grealish has seen a number of striking and crucial goals at crucial moments this year
The 24-year-old skipper is already a kind of cult figure in his boys’ club
These characteristics combined makes him one of the most acclaimed players in English football at the moment. Taking away his loyalty to Villa, the end of the season will bring food to mind as he enters the peak years of his career.
In general, you do something good if your name is in the rumor mill and there is speculation about a possible move in the summer, regardless of the status of Aston Villa in the Premier League.
Price tags of £ 80m and higher are now being splashed – so Tottenham and Levy have missed a trick? How would Grealish currently fit into a Jose Mourinho system?
For the most part, the 24-year-old would add a layer of creativity and deception that this season consistently lacked in North London.
Christian Eriksen, main player of the best part of seven years, has left for new meadows in Italy and has been flattered to deceive most of a year now
Christian Eriksen (L) has now left for Inter, while Dele Alli (R) has been inconsistent this season
Dele Alli has also been leveled since the 2018 World Cup and for all the promise and impressive cameos that Giovani Lo Celso has signed, he has yet to score (or record an assist) in the Premier League for his new club.
And what Tottenham needs right now, in the absence of Harry Kane, are goals while looking up Chelsea for a top four spot.
So until Sunday and a game that is undoubtedly a potential banana skin for Tottenham. A team led by Mauricio Pochettino struggled to demolish Villa on the opening day, with a Harry Kane brace late in the day knocking down an attacked Villa side.
But whether it’s with Pochettino or Mourinho, Spurs has met three teams at the bottom of the table this season: Newcastle, Brighton and Southampton.
Grealish celebrates when Villa reaches the Carabao Cup final – but the competition remains the priority
Can Grealish and Co join the club? Refreshed and rejuvenated after the winter break, the Carabao Cup finalists are unpredictable and have so far failed to put together a consistent set of positive results.
But that alone means danger to Spurs. In the same vein, they themselves have failed just when a winning run seems likely.
But for Grealish it is a shot to put himself firmly in the window, not only for a transfer, but also for a call in England. With Levy watching in the stands, a virtuoso, winning competition would be brutal irony for the supreme commander of Tottenham.