Aston Villa are well known for their heavy investment in their facilities for breeding future generations of young players, with many coming through the ranks of the Bodymoor Heath academy to play for the senior team at Villa Park.
These include the likes of current first-teamers Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann and Ciaran Clark along with former players such as Chelsea’s Gary Cahill, Everton’s Gareth Barry and the now-retired German midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger.
Whilst there have been several highly-regarded youngsters to progress from the youth squad all the way through to the first team, there are those whose predicted potential was never quite reached; the likes of Luke Moore, Nathan Delfouneso and Marc Albrighton spring to mind.
Grealish: Villa's next big thing
But the most exciting and highly regarded young prospect from B6 in recent memory has the Villa faithful eagerly anticipating his development into their next home-grown star; Birmingham-born and lifelong Villa fan, Jack Grealish.
A member of the under-19 team that overcame Chelsea in the 2012-2013 NextGen Series final, Grealish made his Premier League debut in the 4-0 defeat against Manchester City last season, coming on as a late substitute.
Having made just seven appearances for the first team thus far, all cameos from the bench, he has shown glimpses of why Chelsea were interested in acquiring his services before signing a new four year contract back in October.
In yet another season of sub-par performances and a currently ongoing goal famine, the young winger has been a rare highlight in a campaign where optimism has been hard to recognise. With each appearance from the bench this season, he has managed to give the fans something to cheer about as his introduction is usually at a point late in the game, where the Villa fans recognise that their team is all out of ideas.
Time for Grealish to get his chance
With the Birmingham side yet to score in the last 15 minutes of a match and dropping points from winning positions as a result, his introduction late into these matches has been the only cause for applause from the Villa faithful. He possesses electric pace, brilliant ball control and isn’t afraid to have a crack at goal; something that Villa’s forwards have struggled with this term.
With all of these qualities, the question remains – why is Paul Lambert yet to hand Jack Grealish a starting berth? With Villa’s lack of creativity going forward and his ability to play as an attacking midfielder as well as distribute crosses from the wing, it seems a no-brainer for the Villa boss to exercise all possible options and take advantage of his home-grown ace card.
In the past, we have witnessed young players crumble under the pressures of the Premier League. The burden of carrying the expectations of a large club with a proud history on their inexperienced shoulders can stunt their confidence, and ultimately their growth as a player, should they not come out on top week in and week out.
With Lambert’s previous transfer philosophy, in which he would scour the lower leagues for hot prospects in a cut-price deal, a lack of guidance from more experienced players on the pitch meant that his way of thinking had its flaws.
Experience added to Villa squad
Young players in the early stages of their career require that hands-on guidance on the pitch with their counterparts on the pitch; not just from a manager shouting tactics from the sidelines. Only just recently has Lambert realised this, adding a wealth of experience to his ranks this season, with the likes of Joe Cole, Philippe Senderos and Keiran Richardson making their way to Villa Park to contribute their knowledge and efforts.
With that theory in mind, it could be that Lambert does not want to burden Grealish at such a young age. Still only 19-years-old and having just signed a four year contract, the young starlet is clearly in it for the long haul.
Grealish belongs at Villa Park
Of course, a player cannot develop unless they are given a substantial amount of playing time in which to hone their skills, but Lambert may possibly looking at the greater scheme of affairs at Villa Park.
While current affairs at the club have had the Villa fans craving for a savior, keeping Grealish’s skill bottled up, gracing the field with his skill intermittently could work in Villa’s favour, allowing the player to bide his time and take advantage of precious playing time when given the chance.
As a lifelong Villa fan, Grealish will naturally want to play his heart out for his boyhood club and contribute his best. Natural talent has no expiration date, so as long as he stays level-headed and continues to aim for a place in the starting 11, Grealish could be on his way to becoming a regular fixture at Villa Park in the not-too-distant future.