Grealish was only 16 when he was promoted to first team training and, in a matter of weeks, made McLeish’s 18th matchday for the first time against Chelsea in March 2012 in the middle of keen interest from the clubs trying to attract it.
Now 24 and a star of the Villa Park show, Grealish is once again linked to a move to Manchester United. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a longtime admirer and, according to our colleagues from Manchester Evening News , the Norwegian will submit a high bid when the summer transfer window reopens.
Severe interest in Villa’s precious assets forced the club hierarchy to stick a £ 80 million prize on Grealish’s head in an effort to warn potential suitors. The skipper, however, remains firmly not-for-sale.
However, things could have been so different if the director of the McLeish and Villa Academy had not intervened when Grealish and his parents met an agent offering to move to Old Trafford on the cheap.
Speaking exclusively to our Claret & Blue podcast, ex-boss McLeish said, “At that time, we felt that people were contacting him to leave Villa. It was one of the main reasons to involve him with us (in the first team).
“He would have been on the bench anyway because of the losses we suffered. He was the best kid there was. “
“When we played Man United, we heard that he was in a restaurant and that he was being courted by one of the agents to try to drive him to Man United.
“We were a little alarmed about it, so we fought hard to keep it. We knew he also loved Villa, his old man. We had them by talking to them. They are lovely people.
“They asked for something and the club went too, but ultimately you get along and everyone is happy. Jack stayed at Aston Villa, which is great to see one of Villa’s great players staying with his childhood club.
McLeish was reminded how much this return in 2012 to tie Grealish could have protected at least £ 50 million for Villa, to which he replied, “There is no question. It was not all mine. Bryan (Jones) at the academy has been instrumental and many thanks go to him. ”
The Scotsman’s controversial tenure at Villa Park lasted only one season, but even nine years ago, McLeish saw an intrepid Grealish teenager sticking to Stiliyan Petrov and his teammates in training.
“I have been to many academy games,” said McLeish. “Even on (Premier League) match day, boys (from the academy) were playing on the side of the training ground.
“I would see Jack with his famous socks along his legs! He had this swagger. Watch him like a child on the ghost field in front of people with the ball at his feet. You could see all day that he was going to be a star, no doubt about it, which is why we thought we should keep him pretty well at Villa.
“When Jack came in, I saw that, even though he was not a big shouter, he was a boy who was ready to take the ball in any part of the field. The guy I compared him at the time was Barry Ferguson. He could have played in any stadium in the world and Barry is not afraid to take the ball and say, “Give me the ball, give it to me!” “
“You see that kind of thing in Jack. He came by leaps and bounds. Not like he was never going to do that, but hopefully he will go play for England … but not against Scotland! “
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