His 20th birthday remains almost a month away but Jack Grealish is already familiar with the front and back pages, the subject of an international tug-of-war and Villa Park’s incipient local hero.
On Saturday he hopes to get back to simply playing football after a hamstring injury ruled him out of the start of the season.
Grealish has started only seven Premier League matches and faces stiff competition in the Villa midfield, not least from Carles Gil, who is also fit after injury, and a raft of new signings from overseas. They include winger Adama Traoré, who played alongside Grealish and Gil for Villa’s Under-21 side during the week having signed for £7m from Barcelona.
Villa manager Tim Sherwood feels Traoré is not match-fit but both Grealish and Gil are in contention to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. “We need Jack and Carles,” said Sherwood. “It is unfortunate that two of the most creative players in the side have been injured at the same time. Now they are getting back to fitness, it will change us going forward.”
The attention will be most on Grealish, who is still to decide whether to opt for England or the Republic of Ireland. He was left out of a provisional 37-man squad named by Martin O’Neill this week ahead of Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia, and is not likely to be in the England party to face San Marino and Switzerland that Roy Hodgson will name on Tuesday.
“Jack is going to decide very shortly what he wants to do,” said O’Neill. “It’s a big decision to make.”
It is a big season for Grealish, not least in curbing the excesses of his lifestyle. While photographs of him inhaling the legal high nitrous oxide were opportunistic and over-hyped, pictures of him face down in the street while on holiday in Tenerife, then allegedly drinking from a £6,000 vodka bottle in Marbella, were at best unfortunate.
Sherwood said:“I will back him 100 per cent, he is such a talented boy. I love him to death and I hate him at the same time. I want to nurture him to fulfil his full potential.
“He did annoy me in the summer, but he annoyed himself. Hopefully, the penny has dropped with him. Young kids make mistakes. But they come through it. He is a one-off – and he is a one-off on the pitch. He has come through it and we need to move on.”
Both Villa and Palace have made similar starts, winning at promoted clubs (Bournemouth and Norwich respectively), then losing at home to title contenders (Manchester United and Arsenal).
Palace were beaten at Selhurst Park by Villa last season, one of 10 home defeats. “We have got to win our home games,” said manager Alan Pardew.
Last season, though they finished 10th, their highest position since 1992, Palace won six home games out of 19 and Pardew added: “I was pleased with the performance against Arsenal, I thought we played well, but we need to turn that into results at home; we need to win more than half of our home games.”Reuse content