Grealish’s decision this summer to quit his boyhood club Aston Villa on a £100million release clause upset fans but the ace is now chasing silverware, playing in the Champions League and starting more for England
Jack Grealish returns to Aston Villa on Wednesday for the first time as a Manchester City superstar plotting the downfall of his old club.
Grealish’s love affair with Villa was so intense and started so young, there were tears and recriminations from some fans when he left this summer.
But the former academy graduate, who grew up a fan and trained with Villa from age six, felt a record £100million move to champions Manchester City was too good to turn down.
The ace has not been disappointed by life at the Etihad Stadium as City’s new No.10, under hands-on Pep Guardiola.
The Spanish coach has been teaching Grealish on the training ground to pass the ball much more and much quicker.
It has been a big change to the star but he is no longer the most fouled player in the Premier League as he was previously when teams set out to stop him to stop Villa.
Ironically Grealish is just back from injury but that was sustained on international duty against Albania before he was later sent home from training.
It is no coincidence, Grealish’s first team starts at international level under Gareth Southgate have increased since his big-money move.
At the Euros, it was a huge debate among fans whether Southgate should have started the attacking ace more or used him earlier off the bench when a sub.
Yet already this season Grealish has started three games for England since becoming the country’s most expensive player and can look forward to playing a bigger role at next year’s World Cup.
While for City, Grealish, 26, has accepted he is part of such a talented squad that he must get used to being subbed and benched occasionally to benefit the team in what also has been a big change for him from Villa.
Grealish has still contributed two goals and three assists in 15 appearances for City though in all competitions.
He has made more of an instant impact than fellow England ace Jadon Sancho who is only now belatedly starting to find his feet at Manchester United after a £73million move.
Some Villa fans will doubtlessly still moan at Grealish’s exit and supposed betrayal on a release clause.
But Villa players and fellow pros have certainly understood Grealish’s move and remained pals.
John McGinn and Conor Hourihane were in Grealish’s plush box at the Etihad just last week for City’s Champions League win over PSG.
City were keen to ideally use him with Kevin De Bruyne out but Grealish was not quite fit.
He has since trained Sunday, Monday and Tuesday this week to stake a claim to take on Villa with his new club, where he has become close pals with Phil Foden.
Retaining the Premier League title is an ambition but the first priority is the Champions League.
City are guaranteed to finish top of Group A and it is the competition they are desperate to win the most after losing in the final last term.
For Grealish, playing in the Champions League is the fulfilment of a lifetime’s ambition to play at the top and run out to the iconic music.
Already this term he has lined up at PSG against a home side including Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
Yet such was his loyalty to Villa when Tottenham came calling in August 2018, Grealish stayed despite his boyhood club languishing in the Championship.
Not many players would have done that when they could have swapped the Championship for the Champions League.
Soon after Grealish was playing against Rotherham in the second tier for Villa while Spurs took on Barcelona at Wembley.
More temperamental stars might have lost their focus at the enormous extremes.
But Grealish stayed committed and helped Villa into the Premier League before keeping them there for two seasons.
His old club have struggled to adjust to the loss of their talisman this term but Grealish continues to want Villa to do well every week – just not against Manchester City.
His Villa-mad family are the same too but have no longer kept a box at Villa Park.
They will be at the game Wednesday but will be rooting for their own claret.