Jack Grealish has become one of England's best midfield options

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Tottenham Hotspur came so close to pulling off a £25 million move for Jack Grealish in the summer of 2018 that the player himself was convinced he would be bidding farewell to his boyhood club.

The story goes that Daniel Levy boarded a plane to Spurs’ pre-season tour of the United States with the belief that a deal for the Aston Villa midfielder had all but been agreed. By the time he landed in Los Angeles, Villa had been bought over and were in a stronger financial position to play hardball over their prize asset.

Of course, another 18 months at Aston Villa has hardly stunted Grealish’s growth. The 24-year-old has been one of the Premier League’s brightest stars this season, notching seven goals and six assists - more than any other English midfielder.

As creative midfielders come, there aren’t many better in the game than Grealish right now.

“They have one of the best players in the league in Jack Grealish. I’m a big fan of him,” Pep Guardiola recently gushed over the Aston Villa captain.

Jose Mourinho labelled him a “very important player” before Spurs’ trip to the west Midlands last weekend. The typically sparkling performance turned in by Grealish only added to the north London club’s regret over failing to capture the midfielder when they had the chance.

Now, the 24-year-old has the pick of England’s biggest and best clubs with Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United all reported to be weighing up a summer move. Grealish is playing at such a level that even Barcelona and Real Madrid have been linked with the midfielder.

Aston Villa will collect much more than just £25 million when the time comes to cash in.

Grealish might not have received the attention of fellow homegrown youngsters like Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Trent Alexander-Arnold until this season, but he has earned his place at the vanguard of English football’s next generation and this summer could feasibly see his star rise even higher.

France v England - U21 International Friendly

England’s desperate need for an attacking midfielder who can unlock a low defensive block was made clear over the 2018 World Cup.

Thankfully for Gareth Southgate he has a youthful crop of such talents coming through. Phil Foden has long been tipped as England’s very own Andres Iniesta in the making while James Maddison has enjoyed an exceptional season for Leicester City. But it’s Grealish who is impressing above all others.

It’s therefore somewhat peculiar that Grealish has yet to even receive a call-up to the senior England squad let alone a cap. Indeed, if the Villa man is to be a key figure for the Three Lions at this summer’s European Championships, as his recent performances would warrant, Southgate will have to rush his integration.

The risk might be worth the reward, though. Despite injuries to Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, England are well-equipped to finally end their 54-year major tournament title drought this summer. Southgate has some of the best full backs, midfield anchors and wide attackers in the game at this moment, but in Grealish he has someone who can take a tight grip of a game.

It’s not just Grealish’s technical skillset that makes him so special, but in his mentality too. There is an arrogance to the 24-year-old, but rather than convincing him that he is already among the best this mindset has given him a drive to prove he belongs in such company.

Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

Grealish’s work ethic is evident in his physique and capacity for covering more ground than anyone else on the pitch. Not many English players have this mental complexion and it could take Grealish to the very top of the game.

There’s a sense of inevitability to the idea that Grealish will take the next step in his career this summer. “I’ve said many times we’ve two magnificent owners who want to be successful at this football club, and they’ve an awful lot of money which they’ve collected from their hard work in their businesses.

"If you want to be a successful team you have to keep your best players, and they will be working very hard to ensure our best players stay at this football club. That’s probably the best answer I can give the fans,” Aston Villa manager Dean Smith attempted to reason when asked whether his capture’s exit is imminent, offering little in the way of comfort.

Grealish still has Villa’s top flight status to secure before the end of the season. He is the one player keeping them above the waterline, the one player who could keep Smith’s side in the Premier League. But Grealish is destined to embrace bigger challengers on a bigger stage. His mind as much as his technical ability will take him there.

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