GRE­AL­ISH: I never want to leave Villa

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE - By John Wragg

JACK GRE­AL­ISH will never leave As­ton Villa. Not if it’s left up to him any­way. It’s his club, his home, his dream, his job to help put things right.

Rel­e­ga­tion hit him hard. His fa­ther, mother, fam­ily are all Villa fans. There can be up to 20 of them at a home game, even though there’s not been much to watch in re­cent years.

Villa Park be­came a de­press­ing place, with rel­e­ga­tion fight fol­low­ing rel­e­ga­tion fight. In­evitably, they were knocked clean out and it’s in the Cham­pi­onship that Gre­al­ish, 21, is build­ing his ca­reer.

He will look you in the eye and say that head­lines about all-night ho­tel par­ties the police had to break up, be­ing pic­tured ap­par­ently flat out drunk while on hol­i­day, the stu­pid­ity of go­ing club­bing af­ter a 4-0 thrash­ing at Ever­ton, are over.

That, he says, is the out­come of not be­ing able to deal with celebrity and fame when it sud­denly came call­ing.

He still lives in the fam­ily home less than 20 miles from Villa Park, so there is con­sid­er­able first­hand parental in­flu­ence on tap.

“If I was in the Holte End watch­ing me play, what I’d want to see is pas­sion, to show you are fight­ing for the shirt,” he says. “You’ve got play­ers who have good tech­ni­cal abil­ity, and the team and the fans ex­pect more of those play­ers. But first of all show that you want to play for the shirt.

“I've grown up watch­ing ev­ery­one on that pitch, hop­ing that one day that would be me. And it is me now. I just need to en­joy it and make the most of it. A lot of ex-pros have told me that some­times you take it for granted, the play­ing, but they are the best days of your life. I’m 21 and I might have 15-16 years, but you never know what’s go­ing to come along, do you?

“I would never want to leave the Villa. It’s a dif­fi­cult ques­tion, but I wouldn’t want to leave, no. I live here. I’ve been brought up here. I’m not plan­ning on leav­ing any time soon.

“This is the dream for me. Ex­actly the dream. All I’ve wanted to do my whole life was to play for Villa, to be classed as a Villa first-team player.”

As­ton Villa’s all-time record ap­pear­ance maker is a full-back, Char­lie Aitken, who played 659 games over 17 sea­sons from 1961 to 1976. Gre­al­ish is on 69 over five years, with a fight on now if he is to quickly add any more.

Man­ager Steve Bruce is re­vamp­ing his team in this trans­fer win­dow, par­tic­u­larly in mid­field where Gre­al­ish op­er­ates. Conor Houri­hane

(see back page), Birkir Bjar­na­son and Henri Lans­bury have all ar­rived. It’s more con­gested than nearby Spaghetti Junc­tion.

When Tim Sher­wood gave Gre­al­ish his full de­but 21 months ago, he tapped him on the shoul­der and said: “Do you fancy play­ing to­mor­row?”

Gre­al­ish will be hop­ing for the same in­vi­ta­tion when Villa play at Brent­ford on Tues­day.

We are sit­ting in the Villa in­door train­ing area. They call it The Barn. Some would say their strik­ers over the years haven’t been able to hit the door, but Gre­al­ish looks down the line of weights and ap­pa­ra­tus to the far end.

He’s been at Villa since he was six years old. He’s had a sea­son ticket since he was four. “For me grow­ing up, com­ing through the acad­emy, it’s mas­sive to play for As­ton Villa.

“I sit here and I think to my­self ‘I used to come in here and it was the first team play­ers train­ing, up and down, right here’.”

Mem­o­ries

He points to where his mem­o­ries are. “I used to look at them in shock, do you know what I mean? I used to think ‘I hope one day I can be like that’. Some­times, foot­ball, you can take it for granted. I try as much as I can not to do that.

“Juan Pablo An­gel, Gabby (team mate Gabriel Ag­bon­la­hor), John Carew, Ash­ley Young, Petrov. We could do with some of them to­day.

“I have got to fight for my place now, I know that. I’ve had my fair share of games this sea­son (17). I feel I could have prob­a­bly done more for an at­tack­ing player.

“I’ve won a few penal­ties and got one as­sist and three goals. He (Bruce) is bring­ing in new play-

ers.When you’ve got peo­ple who are just as good, if not bet­ter than your­self, then you have to per­form bet­ter. With me that’s what I will do.” Head­lines that the Gre­al­ish fam­ily will keep are the ones for his per­for­mance against Liver­pool in the 2015 FA Cup semi-fi­nal. It was the game where fame found him. His feet did the talk­ing, even if his head couldn’t sub­se­quently take it. “That was the best day of my life,” he re­flected. “We were up against such a good team and on such a big stage. I re­mem­ber my mum and dad were in a box up­stairs and I went up and they started cry­ing, both of them. They were just so happy.

“You see it from their point of view. Their son has just played in the semi­fi­nal for the team they both sup­port.

“I’d been there as a 15-year-old watch­ing Villa in the FA Cup semi­fi­nal against Manch­ester United.To be play­ing in it five years later, start­ing in it, play­ing a part in both goals…” Gre­al­ish’s voice trails away. The fi­nal was a dis­as­ter, a 4-0 thrash­ing by Arse­nal, although he says: “Not hard to take, not re­ally. Rewind six weeks ear­lier, we were sec­ond bot­tom in the league. Now we’ve stayed up and been in the Cup fi­nal.

“I can’t ex­plain how good that would have been to walk up those steps, win­ning the FA Cup at 19. The medal’s at home. It’s a prized souvenir but I’d rather it said ‘win­ner’ than ‘loser’.”

Gre­al­ish equalled his great great grand­fa­ther Billy Gar­raty’s achieve­ment of get­ting to the fi­nal with Villa, but Billy won it in 1905 and also got a full Eng­land cap.

Ex­pe­ri­ence

So, there is still fam­ily his­tory to live up to. There’s pres­sure, too, to get Villa back up, some­thing that is trick­ier now than it was be­fore Christ­mas af­ter four league games with­out a win.

“We were the first Villa team to get rel­e­gated in how long (29 years)?” he says. “I never knew what pres­sure was or what nerves were. Over the last year, it’s got tougher, but that’s the side of it you’ve got to try and block out. I try and see it as a Sun­day league game when I was a young kid.

“I’ve got to put right be­ing rel­e­gated. Be­ing a Villa fan – that is ex­tra spe­cial for me .You have to stand and face it and put it right.

“The ex­pe­ri­ence has helped me ma­ture. For a player, you get rel­e­gated and that’s it. What I didn’t re­alise was how many peo­ple lost their jobs.

“Peo­ple that I knew. Peo­ple who have been here all their lives were get­ting sacked be­cause of how we were play­ing on the foot­ball pitch. We weren’t do­ing it on pur­pose but it was just not a nice place to be.”

Mid­dles­brough have shown in­ter­est in tak­ing Gre­al­ish to the North East and back into the Premier League. But they have not made a bid and Gre­al­ish won’t be mak­ing the move.

When he first went on the Villa pitch, he was 14 and his team had beaten Black­burn to reach the League Cup fi­nal. “That’s about my ear­li­est mem­ory,” he said. “We got through to Wem­b­ley. It was un­be­liev­able. I re­mem­ber grab­bing some of the grass and bring­ing it home.”

He ad­mits he has been stupid, but he is a boy in a su­per­man world. He would have ben­e­fited from more help from a club that has seen a whirl­wind of 12 man­agers come and go since Gre­al­ish was born in 1995. He’s played against star names, does he feel part of that? “I’m way off that,” he added. “They are such tal­ented foot­ballers. They keep their con­sis­tency game af­ter game. That’s what I’m striv­ing to be.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

WHAT A FEEL­ING: Jack Gre­al­ish cel­e­brates scor­ing for Villa against Wi­gan

NEW­COMER: Conor Houri­hane from Barns­ley

VIN­TAGE: Juan Pablo An­gel

BIG STAGE: Gre­al­ish against Hec­tor Bel­lerin in the FA Cup fi­nal

HIGH­LIGHT: in the FA Gre­al­ish semi-fi­nal Cup Liver­pool against

DE­JECTED: Gre­al­ish low at a ebb af­ter a 4-0 fi­nal de­feat

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