Aston Villa will now be preparing for life without their star-man Jack Grealish, the rumours circulating for many weeks before an official confirmation came courtesy of the customary big signing announcement on social media.
With Dean Smith buying well in the transfer window, alongside a comfortable Premier League finish last time out, I can see Villa still managing to stay afloat even with their icon of sorts moving on to pastures new.
Of course, ideally, Dean Smith would have kept hold of Jack Grealish and made him the main focal point of his side for the forthcoming Premier League campaign. Wearing the captain’s armband for some time now, the loss of a captain figure will hurt Villa. Losing that creativity and flair is also a big loss, it was shown at the Euros time and time again how impactful Grealish’s flair can be to your side – coming on against Germany, and managing to unlock a stern German defence courtesy of the Birmingham born footballer.
But, Aston Villa – based on the transfers in at Villa Park – have looked like a side preparing for the eventuality of Grealish seeking pastures new and leaving for The Etihad. Villa fans can say Grealish has betrayed any potential legacy he could have with the side he’s been at since a boy, he won’t be seen in the same ilk as Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard with club allegiances, but Jack cannot turn down a chance to play under Guardiola. Purchased for an astronomical fee too, Pep isn’t going to shy away from throwing Jack into those big nights and occasions where Grealish can lift trophies he potentially couldn’t sticking around in Aston.
So, who have Dean Smith and co splashed the big bucks on to replace the gaping vacancy left behind by Grealish? An early signing made by Smith indicated the sort of player he was going to go for – a player who likes to attack with flair and skill, that player being ex-Norwich City favourite Emi Buendia. During his four years at Carrow Road, Buendia’s ability far exceeded Norwich’s usual Championship status. Last season, before arriving to Birmingham, Emi’s output was his best yet for his Norfolk based side. Under Farke season just gone, Buendia managed to win Championship Player of the Season with 15 goals propelling Norwich to the title. Now, it’s up to the Argentine midfielder to take that Championship form into the Premier League, and surrounded by better midfielders in John McGinn, Buendia could lessen the sting of Grealish exiting Villa Park.
Another Norwich player could also be in to fill the very vacancy of Grealish in Todd Cantwell, another exciting talent for The Canaries and very much of the Grealish mould in his footballing ability. Unafraid to splash more cash, another winger in Leon Bailey has also come in at Aston Villa – swapping the Bundesliga for the Premier League, the Jamaican attracting interest from the likes of Everton before signing for Dean Smith’s team. The fact Villa have beaten Everton to a signing speaks volumes to me, Villa are on an upward trajectory and could be in and around spots for Europe this season coming up even without the glue of the formerly ever-present Jack Grealish in the middle. Bagging a brace against Bayern Munich in the last campaign, the electric Jamaican winger is a signing of intent. Securing a comfortable spot in the Premier League last campaign, Dean Smith’s side aren’t messing about.
Further, going in and stealing the best players from clubs in and around in the Premier League, again, shows to you the difference in mentality now at Aston Villa. Going through periods of dismay under the likes of Remi Garde and Roberto Di Matteo, Dean Smith knows it’s a very positive time to be associated with the Claret and Blue side of Birmingham. Danny Ings joining removes Southampton’s focal player up top, and adds another great attacking option alongside the aforementioned Bailey and Buendia. Strengthening up front, Grealish’s attacking output won’t be as missed as you might expect. Ings’ injury record might be of a concern, Danny prone to a lengthy absence, but his goalscoring record is enough to validate this big money buy.
These three signings alone show to me that Villa aren’t here to fall off and be invited into a relegation scrap, hindering their rivals in the Premier League whilst only bolstering their talent. It could be argued that the likes of Leon Bailey have never played a Premier League minute, Buendia isn’t proven in the top flight either. Yet, these signings are exciting signs that Aston Villa are a club on the up – buying talents linked with clubs that, a few years ago, Dean Smith’s side could not compete with in terms of transfers. Now, Aston Villa are becoming the club players don’t snub for the likes of Arsenal and others.
Old faces have also returned in the experience of Ashley Young, and two-time loanee Axel Tuanzebe re-joining for a third time – both players used to the Aston Villa fabric, both slotting straight back in at Villa. I think, therefore, Aston Villa can still flourish even after the Jack Grealish saga purely because the funds accumulated from this sale have been spent wisely on exciting talents that can improve tenfold. It’s disappointing to see Grealish depart, especially when he’d been a Villa fan and player since a youngster, but club loyalties are becoming ever more impermanent in the modern game – Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona a pressing example, players will move on if the circumstances present themselves. With Dean Smith at the helm, a Villa man himself providing stability, I can see a bright future for Villa where they can flourish even when acclimatising to life without Jack Grealish.