Dave Woodhall casts his eye over recent events at Villa Park.
Like Christmas, the run-up to the football season seems to start earlier every year. There was a time when pre-season was a couple of friendlies in Scotland (Germany if Doug could get a good deal on flights) and a run-out at home to a crack Eastern European side. ‘Crack’ had a different meaning in those days and usually meant the sort of team from behind the Iron Curtain that won their league seventeen years in a row and never got past the second round in Europe.
Anyway, those days are gone now. Covid might have scuppered the pre-season tour but there’s still a string of friendlies to cast your eye over new signings and see what the new kit looks like in the flesh. The traditional benefit game at Bescot saw a 4-0 win that means we’re on course for success, losing 2-0 at Stoke was proof that we’ll be battling relegation and a 3-0 win at Bristol City is further proof that 2021-22 is going to be a good one.
Some of the first team squad are yet to return from international duty so a few of the youngsters have been given the chance to show themselves and Lamare Bogarde, in particular, looks as though he might be ready to make the step up before too long.
There have been a few transfer deals already, with Emi Buendia arriving for a record fee and Serie A winner Ashley Young returning. One will be a big star, the other provides experience for the youngest squad in the Premier League and strength in depth where it’s needed. We’re also, hopefully, touch wood and hoping nothing goes wrong, on the verge of buying Leon Bailey from Leverkusen. I know we’ve signed players from abroad before who promised a lot more than they delivered, but Bailey looks to be the real deal, a genuine statement signing that shows the Villa mean business and makes it easier to attract players of equal quality.
We’ll need a couple more – another striker is a must, because we can’t rely on Ollie Watkins to play as many games this season as he did last time round. We could also do with another central defender, although the problem here is we’ve got two who are immovable plus a third who improved massively last season so getting a good enough player who knows he’s unlikely to get much of a look-in might be difficult. There’s also talk of a holding midfielder, but again that might not be as essential as it seems if Marvelous Nakamba can become a bit more consistent.
And transfer talk does of course lead on to the big news of last week and perhaps the next few weeks as well. Release clause, billionaire owners or no, if Jack Grealish wants to leave then there’s not a lot that can be done about it. It’s up to him and the next few days are going to be vital ones. If he is going, let him get on with it so we can try to fill what will undoubtedly be a big hole in the team. Jack’s one of the best players in the world, no question, and would be an asset to any club although there’s nowhere he would be as vital as to the Villa. Losing him would be a blow but we’ve lost players before and carried on. Whoever’s in the team, the Villa will carry on.
I don’t doubt that owners, CEO, coaches (head and otherwise) and players will be trying their damnedest to get Jack to stay. If after all that he does go, it’s not much of a stretch to say that he’ll be at Manchester City for something like five years and in that time win three or four Premier League titles, maybe the Champions League a couple of times and a few other assorted medals and trinkets. He’ll be idolised by their supporters and once he leaves they’ll forget about him and move on to the next shiny object of their affections.
If he stays at Villa he’ll win a trophy or two in that time because it’s definitely our year for the FA Cup before long. When he leaves he’ll be able to walk past a statue of Jack Grealish and take his seat in the Jack Grealish stand with his fellow directors. In a hundred years time Villa supporters will be telling stories of when their grandparents saw Jack Grealish play. That’s the real choice Jack faces – success, or immortality.