There will be differing opinions on the Jack Grealish situation at Aston Villa and varying interpretations of how much of a problem his social habits are, but that’s no longer the principal issue. A decision has been made by Remi Garde and Grealish has been temporarily demoted to the U21 squad.
That’s a brave move. Garde arrived in this country with his reputation enhanced by the cost-effective work he did a Lyon, but he is hardly a big-name manager. Consequently, he is not someone who has a lot of credits in the bank. His CV is not full of ebullient paragraphs detailing his success and so, in the Midlands, he will be initially judged week-to-week rather than on the promise of what he might be able to deliver in the future.
So dropping Grealish is bold. The young winger has been the sole dash of colour in the monochrome Villa landscape and, while most will understand the reasons why, the decision to cast him out to the fringes will not be universally popular. Who are the fans likely to side with: the foreign manager who is still an unknown quantity, or the loose-socked, homegrown talent who plays with uninhibited optimism?
But then, there is a good reason to trust Garde and to believe that he understands how to incubate developing talent. The Frenchman owes his reputation in his homeland to what he was able to do with Lyon’s academy and anyone familiar with the young group of players at Stade Gerland would argue that the developing generation at Villa Park are absolutely in the right hands.
While integrating academy products into a first-team is commonly assumed to be centred around breeding confidence, honing technical ability and equipping teenagers to handle the physical side of the adult game, it’s also an exercise in character refinement - especially those considered to be blue-chip talents. Those first few months of professional football - and all the associated fame and fortune that they can bring - can be perilous, especially for a hatching personality. While the player himself is obliged to grow up as quickly as possible, there’s also an onus on his coach to take his hand and guide him along that narrow road to footballing maturity.
Remi Garde evidently understands that, because the current Lyon side wouldn’t be the goldmine of talent that it is if he didn’t. His stance towards Jack Grealish may appear as if it’s motivated by irritation, but it’s clearly a calculated move which is designed to inspire something in the player and one which is intended to jolt him into a period of introspection.
And whatever your interpretation of Grealish, hippy crack and his fairly benign habits, it’s hard to take umbrage with that. While there are exceptions, talented youngsters who have gone on to have successful careers in the game very rarely tell stories of frivolous behaviour. Once they’ve reached a tipping point in their career and have established themselves at a certain level - maybe - but generally those early years are described with platitudes about sacrifice and hard work. Right now, that doesn’t seem to be something that Jack Grealish can relate to - or at the very least, he doesn’t appear to be living that kind of life. On the one hand - yes - he is just a young boy doing what we all would have done given the chance. But on the other, he is a fabulously gifted footballer who has not yet acquired the habits befitting a professional.
It’s not a moral, Daily Mail-style argument, because nobody should be outraged, offended or surprised by any of this, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not ill-advised. Grealish is behaving as if he’s already made it and as if he has already passed the hard-work, self-denial stage of his development. He hasn’t and very rarely does not recognising that lead to anywhere other than unrealised potential.
So Garde is absolutely what Jack Grealish. This will have been a chastening experience for him and training at Bodymoor Heath with players who he had previously been promoted beyond will dent his ego. But, if he responds to that in the right way, the last few days will create a reference point that could very well help define his career. He is being treated brutally, but it’s tough love rather than an outright punishment.
Viewed from the proper perspective, it’s actually a very encouraging indicator as to what Garde might be able to achieve in England. Grealish is an asset to Aston Villa at the moment and they are a better side when he is available to them. That his future is being prioritised ahead of the team’s present is a statement regarding the sort of manager the club now has and the kind of culture he wishes to breed. Maybe they’ll miss his jinking ambition at home to Watford on Saturday, but maybe - because of what’s happened this week - they’ll benefit from a more consistent Jack Grealish in December and beyond.
It was a bold course of action from a young manager, but it was actually the first real sign that Villa have got this appointment absolutely right.