Fussin’ Boots – How Good Is Jack Grealish?

News had broken during the week than Aston Villa’s teen prodigy, Jack Grealish, had finally made his mind up and committed to the Republic of Ireland; Irish football fans got very excited.

Their giddiness lasted but a matter of hours with the player himself quickly denying the claims, tweeting ‘stuff in the papers about me that I didn’t even know myself’.

As the fight for his allegiance between England and Ireland intensifies, it’s starting to become apparent Grealish is playing a dangerous game. His hesitation in announcing his future international plans is beginning to draw fire from fans annoyed with his apparent ambivalence; especially those who haven’t seen him play and don’t understand what the fuss is about – and there is a fuss being created, make no mistake about it.

Michael O’Leary, Ryanair head honcho, has already attempted to sweeten the Birmingham-born youngster by offering he and his family free flights and, most recently, even Dublin Suit shop, Collar & Cuff have gotten in on the act, offering him complimentary attire should he decide pull on the green jersey.

From the outside looking in it all seems a bit overboard for a player who, in Roy Keane’s own words, has yet to either score or assist a goal for Villa. In fact, Grealish has even yet to start a Premier League game for the midlands’ club – so why the big hullaballoo?

Well, to put it frankly, the boy is good – he’s very good. Having watched his progress closely for a number of years now, it was quite clear to a lot of people around Villa that Grealish had huge potential from a young age. One of the stars of Villa’s NextGen-winning side, big things were expected but tempered by his slight, boyish frame.

Villa boss, Paul Lambert, sent him out on-loan last season to get him some experience of ‘man’s football’ – ending up at struggling Notts County. In the rough and tumble of League One under Shaun Derry, at just 18, Grealish excelled.

He finished his loan stint at County with 5 goals and 5 assists but it was the manner of his play that excited all that watched him. His jinking, slaloming dribbles and incisive play-making had Meadow Lane bouncing regularly – they knew they had quite the player on their hands.

For all his skills, his flicks and tricks, Grealish has a football intelligence that few players of his age possess. His first touch is like velvet, he can spot a pass that would have David Silva’s toes curling and his ability to dribble with the ball at pace is fierce.

As pointed out earlier, he has yet to start a Premier League game for Villa but there is a sense that Lambert and Keane are making sure expectations surrounding the boy are checked. The FAI and Martin O’Neill, too, have made sure that when dealing with him it is very much with kid gloves.

The English FA are reportedly making huge efforts to persuade him to turn out for the country of his birth but having represented Ireland since U-14 level and hugely proud of his Irish roots, there is the growing feeling that he will stay where he is.

While it’s important to remember that for now, the 19 year-old is merely potential and has yet to prove anything, it’s doubly paramount to realise that Ireland’s pool of young talent continues to dwindle and that a future sensation like Grealish must not be allowed slip by the wayside.

In this instance, he is the exception, not the rule, and should be afforded our patience whilst he makes one of the biggest decisions of his life.