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Has Aston Villa already identified Jack Grealish's replacement?

Sunday 1st August 2021
Was Aston Villa's recent bid for James Ward-Prowse the first step in replacing Jack Grealish?
Was Aston Villa's recent bid for James Ward-Prowse the first step in replacing Jack Grealish?

The old saying tells us to follow the money. In the case of where Jack Grealish will be playing football this coming season, Manchester City’s reported £100 million bid for the Aston Villa forward is the obvious place to start. Until Villa confirm and accept the bid, however, one must look for other clues to determine whether the rumour has substance.

Without a doubt, the Second City outfit are an ambitious club under new majority owner Nassef Sawiris. Transfer spending is on the cusp of £270 million since the summer of 2019. Grealish is easily their most important player. Losing him is a body blow to those ambitions. If the club believes they can convince the England international to stay, they won't let City bully them. If not, though, they need to act quickly. That’s why their recent £25 million bid for Southampton star James Ward-Prowse is so intriguing.

As Villa’s valuation suggests, Ward-Prowse is a poor-man’s Grealish in that their styles are distinct but the end results are similar. After their own fashion, each is a facilitator. The Villa Park man ended 20/21 with ten assists in the Premier League. The Saint Mary’s denizen turned in seven. In terms of goals, Grealish again edged out Ward-Prowse 6:5 if you don’t count the latter’s three conversions from the penalty spot. 

You do the math. If Villa have come to believe that Grealish’s departure is inevitable and imminent, does it not make sense to mitigate the damage by accepting a very generous bid then reinvest less than 50% of the proceeds on a player whose numbers come in at somewhere between 70-80% of handsome Jack’s?

I say less than 50% because, while 25 is clearly a quarter of 100, So’ton rejected Villa's bid. The Saints aren’t numpties. They’ve been in the business of growing and selling talented players to bigger clubs for quite some time. Ask Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal about past signings the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Sadio Mane, Luke Shaw and Theo Walcott. Southampton understand that Villa is almost certainly looking to replace Grealish before the season begins. You can believe they heard the rumours about how much the Sky Blues are willing to pay before you did. They want as much of that meaty pie as they can get their hands on. If Villa truly want Ward-Prowse--and assuming Grealish is on his way out, truly is a massive understatement--they will need to pony up more than £25 million. 

Given the money Sawiris has poured into the club over the past 24 months, it’s a safe bet Villa will improve their bid for Ward-Prowse. The question then becomes whether the 26-year-old can keep his new club on its current upward trajectory?

While Jack Grealish is the more productive star, James Ward-Prowse is a like for like replacement.
While Jack Grealish is the more productive star, James Ward-Prowse is a like for like replacement.

Graphic courtesy Understat.com

Clearly, he isn’t on Grealish’s level. In fact, his personal numbers, along with Southampton’s, regressed in 20/21. You can blame the Saints slide on Ward-Prowse under the premise that a facilitator's job is to make those around him better rather than be affected by their poor performances. Nevertheless, the fact remains. Even at less than his best, Ward-Prowse’s performance wasn’t that far off that of the man he may replace.

In fact, it was close enough that the club can make up the difference in other areas. With Emi Buendia already on board for £34.5 million and prepared to 'facilitate' from the opposite flank, Villa may also be looking to upgrade at centre-forward. Chelsea is reportedly looking to offload Tammy Abraham. Alexandre Lacazette and Anthony Martial have also been mooted as available by Arsenal and United and those are just the bigger names at top clubs.

Jack Grealish might be the hottest property in English football at the moment and it should go without saying that he can’t be easily replaced. Still, it would be a mistake to assume the entirety of Aston Villa’s hopes and aspirations are tied to him. If it comes to it, they will sell their captain to Manchester City and use those funds to improve their squad by other means. They’ll allow Grealish to follow the money to the Etihad while remembering another old saying. No player is bigger than the club.

Today's Football Tips
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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