Connect in the back of the net

Adam’s latest “The Championship Corner” column.

It was billed as something of a coup when, almost a year ago, Jack Grealish chose England ahead of the Republic of Ireland, the country of his grandparents.

12 months later Grealish has yet to play for his country and his hopes of doing so must be as distant as ever.

Grealish failed to build on a promising emergence at Aston Villa under Tim Sherwood in the second half of the 2014/15 season as he made just 9 starts in Villa’s dismal relegation campaign the following season.

He has already made 6 starts this term but any hope of the 21 year old rediscovering the right track have been undermined by an internal investigation following an all-night party last weekend.

Manager Roberto Di Matteo has advised Grealish that he must “grow up quickly” but for both player and club the incident has unwelcome echoes of last June when the midfielder was spoken to privately by his club over photos that surfaced of him lying drunk and prostate on a Tenerife road.

That misdemeanour came two months after Sherwood warned the player as he was photographed taking nitrous oxide by a national newspaper and it is clear that the penny has still not dropped.

His £20,000 weekly wage means a fine of £50,000 will be little deterrent to Grealish, who was it must be said celebrating his birthday on the night after a match, but his latest misdemeanour comes at a damaging time.

Villa’s owner Tony Xia, image-conscious enough to take umbrage at the pre-season predictions of Ian Holloway when the pundit said the club would finish 16th, took again to Twitter to advise Grealish that his focus must be on the pitch.

Chinese billionaire Xia sanctioned almost £50 million worth of spending in the summer as he aims to take the club back to the Premier League and the last thing he would want is for fissures to start appearing in the discipline of Di Matteo’s squad.

Many low contributing high earners were trimmed from the squad as they prepared for the Championship and it is from the culture that saw captain Gabriel Agbonlahor partying at a London hotel on the night Villa were relegated, that Xia’s new dawn is attempting to break away from.

Despite the overhaul Villa languish in 17th after winning just one of their opening 9 games and despite Grealish himself making a positive start to the campaign with 2 goals and 1 assist, only Ross McCormack has created more chances in the Villa squad while only Jordan Ayew has had more shots and completed more dribbles, he doesn’t need to be attracting the derogatory headlines and waster-accusations that has seen Agbonlahor so far banished from the Di Matteo era.

Despite off-field issues, Grealish has been one of Aston Villa's few bright sparks alongside McCormack.

Despite off-field issues, Grealish has been one of Aston Villa’s few bright sparks alongside McCormack.

Villa made a big statement by forking out £12 million to sign McCormack from Fulham whilst Jonathan Kodjia arrives to similar fanfare after netting 20 goals in all competitions last season for Bristol City.

The powerful and quick Ivorian has made a welcome impact, opening his account in only his second match, a curling strike against Rotherham that was cancelled out by a late equaliser.

That was the third instance this season in which Villa have dropped points from winning positions in the dying embers of a match and, with one of his star players allegedly at an all-night party that once again included laughing gas, Di Matteo will find accusations of a fitness issue difficult to shake off.

Villa got a late goal of their own on Saturday, Aaron Tshibola heading home a late equaliser to secure a point against Newcastle, a game Grealish had to sit out through suspension.

Despite the draw Villa were second best for large periods and that will worry Di Matteo further as he may find time running out as he seeks to assuage Xia’s immediate ambition of a return to the top-flight.

For that he needs Grealish on board, showcasing the talents that were apparent in 2015 and had Roy Hodgson clambering to ensure an English allegiance.

If he doesn’t, then the winger may find that warnings and fines may soon fail to suffice.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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