Premier League opinion - Aston Villa's Jack Grealish could be Manchester United's perfect signing
Manchester United are still on the trail of Jack Grealish, Aston Villa's 25-year-old England international. If he were to arrive he could transform United into a side capable of challenging for the title and finally moving on from the unhelpful presence of French midfielder Paul Pogba at Old Trafford.
Jack Grealish of Aston Villa in action during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge
Manchester United’s continued interest in Jack Grealish suggests that Paul Pogba is on his way out of the club at the end of the season.
The 25-year-old Aston Villa playmaker has been the season’s best player, and was reportedly close to signing for United in the summer transfer window. There were even some suggestions that a £65 million deal had been agreed with United, but he ultimately stayed in Birmingham and signed a new five-year contract.
Instead, United brought in Edinson Cavani, Donny van de Beek and Alex Telles for the first team. As well as that, Amad Diallo should have his work permit in January to allow him to join from Atalanta, and Facundo Pellistri is learning his trade in the reserves.
Van de Beek, it was assumed, would provide long-term competition for Pogba. Even before Mino Raiola’s latest intrusion, telling the world that his client no longer had any interest in playing at United (and one could wonder if he ever did), it appeared Pogba wanted out of the club.
Ed Woodward had previously talked about ‘opportunistic’ activity in the transfer market. The generous reading of the Van de Beek transfer was that United’s executive vice-chairman spotted an exceptional player going at a reasonable price and so acted quickly to buy him to improve the squad. It has not yet worked out like that, and there is a more depressing reading.
United had gone into the summer transfer window with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer keen on a winger, a striker and a central defender. Instead he got a left-back, a central midfielder, and a 33-year-old forward bought with only a few hours of the transfer window remaining.
Jack Grealish of England reacts during the UEFA Nations League group stage match between Belgium and England
Image credit: Getty Images
While Van de Beek is demonstrably a better player than Pogba - at least when the Frenchman plays for United as opposed to the national team - Solskjaer may have punted him to the sidelines to prove a point: buy me the players I ask for or I will not use them. It’s a risky strategy but not unheard of. Another possibility is that Solskjaer just does not think Van de Beek offers more than Pogba, which is even more worrying.
Regardless, if Pogba is not able to play competently, and if Solskjaer is unwilling to give Van de Beek a proper chance, then United need to buy someone to link midfield and defence. Of course, Bruno Fernandes is one such player, but he could continue to play a touch deeper than a number 10, with someone more industrious alongside him like Fred, Scott McTominay or Nemanja Matic. By adding Grealish to the team there would be no passenger in a midfield three.
Grealish would also allow for more variation in attack. He could feasibly play as a striker, but he would also be an effective pressure down both the right and the left wing. On the right he would give Solskjaer the player he has been searching for over the past couple of transfer windows, someone quick, creative, technically adept and powerful.
There are of course risks. At 25, Grealish is something of a late developer. He has promised much and only now started to deliver regularly. He has deserved his England caps but in a world where the best players seem to emerge ever younger, it is worth wondering for how much longer he can sustain these levels, particularly when he is occasionally linked to a partying lifestyle, and is kicked throughout matches as he attracts the attention of physical defenders.
Recent reports claim that Villa now want far more for the player. Understandable given his huge improvement over the course of the season so far, but given the impact of the coronavirus on club finances, such a transfer should be a guarantee.
Grealish is close to the perfect player for Solskjaer’s United, but perhaps the question should be for just how many seasons will he be that?