The script was written halfway through last season. Aston Villa would be relegated and Jack Grealish would, finally, leave the club in the summer.
Except Villa stayed up and the England international – subject of interest from Manchester United throughout the summer – has committed his future to his boyhood club, putting pen to paper on a five-year deal.
Contracts in football these days are about as useful as championship belts in professional wrestling, but it’s a positive for all involved at Aston Villa nevertheless. Grealish will be vital once more this coming season and, should they go down, the new contract gives Villa the chance to sell their captain for a high price next summer.
From a lanky lad with virtually no shin pads and a questionable quiff to captain of his boyhood club, an England international and the man entirely responsible for keeping Villa in the top flight, Grealish has come a long way in a short space of time. Despite some hiccups along the way proving he still has a little growing up to do, he deserves the praise he gets.
In honour of him committing his future to Villa, here are some of his greatest moments in the claret and blue shirt…
Grealish made his debut as an 88th minute substitute in Villa’s 4-0 loss to Manchester City in May 2014, having returned from a successful loan spell with Notts County.
It was nothing more than a brief cameo in a game that was decided, but fans were witnessing history as their future captain made his first appearance.
A year on and Grealish was showing glimpses of the talent he possessed that was yet to be unlocked. The then 19-year-old was composed and dangerous in their 2-1 semi-final victory over Liverpool, assisting Fabian Delph’s second-half winner and sending them to the final of the FA Cup.
They went on to lose 4-0, but it was another exciting performance on the big stage to add to the teenager’s portfolio.
Grealish opened his account for the Villans in what has become a trademark style. Opening the scoring, he cut inside from the left and curled the ball into the far corner from just outside the box, giving his side the lead against Leicester.
His efforts weren’t enough, however, as Villa would lose 3-2 in a season that ended in relegation.
Following their relegation to the Championship, there was added pressure on Grealish to step up for his side and be the man to propel them back to the top flight.
It didn’t happen immediately, but he got off to a bright start on the pitch with his solo effort against Rotherham in August 2016. The winger picked up a loose ball, drove at defenders and rounded the keeper to slot into an empty net in fine fashion, giving fans another glimpse at what he’s capable of at his best.
There’s scoring a winner, and then there’s scoring a winner like this.
Grealish gave Aston Villa an all-important win during that Championship season, which kept his side in the hunt for the play-offs. He picked the ball up on the edge of the box, stood up his man and rifled the ball into the far corner with ease.
Cooler than the seeds in a cucumber.
A couple of years older, but still figuring out how to become that bit wiser at times, Grealish was still proving his worth on the pitch, despite how the press had portrayed him by this point.
He assisted the only goal over a two-legged semi-final, sending his boyhood club to the play-off final, just one game away from a return to the Premier League.
They lost the final, but it was another big occasion where the winger had popped up for his side when it mattered most and showed that the Lions were making steps toward a top-flight return.
After a frustrating 2018/19 campaign that had so far been muddled by injuries and inconsistencies, a once again fit Grealish returned to the starting XI under new boss Dean Smith as the side’s captain.
The decision seemed a bold one, but boy did it pay off. After being assaulted by a pitch invader earlier in the game, captain Grealish scored the winner in the midlands derby as Villa beat Birmingham 1-0.
He secured the bragging rights for the town and inspired a run of 10 games unbeaten for his side.
After falling at the final hurdle the year before, there was no way it was happening again.
Skipper Grealish once again fired his side to the Championship play-off final by providing two assists on the way, except this time they won when it mattered most.
It was an immensely emotional day, and one that Grealish described as ‘the best day of [his] life’.
It’s easy to see this one as Villa getting away with it, and perhaps they did, but it’s a great feeling nonetheless.
Who else than Grealish to score a goal on the final day of the season that keeps Villa in the Premier League against all odds? His strike against West Ham ensured that his side finished one point above the relegation zone.
Essentially, it was that strike that’s allowed the club to sign their captain to a new five-year deal. Hugely important.