Jack Grealish hasn’t had quite the impact many might expect from a £100million signing this season.
That’s no shame on the playmaker. The majority of new players that have arrived at Manchester City during Pep Guardiola’s reign, especially forwards, take a long time to get fully accustomed to what the manager demands of them and to truly shine in the team.
Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus all needed at least a season before they were performing consistently, while Phil Foden was drip-fed into the side for a number of years before becoming a regular.
Besides, anyone who has actually watched Grealish in his 25 appearances so far, and not just glanced at his meagre goal and assists numbers, will know that he’s doing just fine. His performances by him have largely been very good, and he clearly fits into Guardiola’s team, it’s still just going to take a bit of time for it all to click into place.
However, Grealish himself will no doubt be wanting to take as little time as possible and to prove his doubters wrong.
The 26-year-old was back on the bench again on Wednesday for the home victory against Brentford as he continues to come in and out of the side. He hasn’t started over half of City’s Premier League this season.
Guardiola shrugged his selection off, saying it was just his typical rotation but some players certainly get rotated more than others.
One man who would never have dreamed of dropping Grealish from his starting XI and had such a profound impact on his career is Dean Smith, with whom he will finally be reunited on Saturday.
Grealish looked as though all his undeniable talent may be squandered as he stuck by his boyhood club after they were relegated to the Championship and struggled. His promise from him was still raw and looked as if it could be swallowed in the physical Championship.
But upon the hiring of Smith that all turned around. After taking them over in October 2018 in 14th place, he guided Villa to promotion via the play-offs in the same season and then firmly established them in the top division before his sacking him.
Much of Smith’s success was a result of the trust he placed in Grealish, as he built the side’s attack around him and gave him the captain’s armband at the age of 23.
Under the coach, Grealish would harness his potential and would go on to be one of the most exciting and inventive forwards in the Premier League, making him an England regular and attracting the interest of Guardiola.
No one has shaped Grealish’s career more than Smith.
The pair couldn’t meet when City were victorious over Villa in December as he had already been sacked by then, but they will finally get the chance to do so when the Blues make the trip to Norwich City, where Smith is now in charge, at the weekend.
As Grealish readies to meet his old mentor on opposing sides for the first time, he will be hoping to be reinstated to a starting berth to get the chance to prove he is well on the way to becoming a great City player.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.