Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish might have struggled to earn first-team minutes under the now-departed Paul Lambert in recent months, but his fortunes could be about to change with Tim Sherwood incoming.
Grealish, 19, has been hailed as one of the top-flight’s most exciting prospects since earning his senior breakthrough at the start of the season, receiving impressive reviews from four league cameos and one Capital One Cup start.
He appeared set for a significant role in Lambert’s side moving forward, but opportunities have instead been few and far between since October, with the promising winger restricted to just 114 minutes of Premier League action.
Far from the finished product, it was somewhat understandable that the Scot handled his star prospect’s development with such care but, with Villa struggling to create chances in the final third, fans had grown more than frustrated with his reluctance to use him.
Enter Sherwood, however, and Grealish looks like one of those who could be set to benefit the most.
"I know him from youth football. I haven’t seen him on the training field but I know he is a talented boy and potentially one of the best young talents,” Sherwood said on Grealish at his first official news conference.
“He’s in the first-team squad at the moment so I am very excited to have a look at him and learn more about him.
“Everyone in the squad has got an important part to play. There won’t be anyone who is not included in my plans. It’s a fresh start for everyone. Whether the previous manager liked them or he didn’t, it doesn’t matter to me.”
|2014-15||Position||Team||Total Key Passes||Key Passes MINS||Appearances||Mins Played|
|Leandro Bacuna||DF||Aston Villa||5||35.6||7||178|
|Joe Cole||MF||Aston Villa||5||45||8||225|
|Carles Gil||MF||Aston Villa||6||50.17||4||301|
|Jack Grealish||MF||Aston Villa||4||52.5||9||210|
|Ashley Westwood||MF||Aston Villa||28||54.89||19||1,537|
|Fabian Delph||MF||Aston Villa||17||74.35||15||1,264|
Sherwood of course remains well-respected from his time working with Tottenham Hotspur’s development squad after joining the coaching staff in 2008, and is credited with bringing through several of their current first-teamers.
Harry Kane’s stellar breakout might have come this season, but it was Sherwood who gave the striker his first Premier League start against Sunderland last April – a match in which he opened his top-flight account.
In addition, Algerian midfielder Nabil Bentaleb was handed his debut under the ex-England international, along with Zeki Fryers, Alex Pritchard and Milos Velkovic, while he also helped now-regular starters Ryan Mason and Andros Townsend progress through the White Hart Lane ranks.
That trend doesn’t just bode well for Grealish, but also for fellow Villa fledglings such as Gary Gardner, Janoi Donacien, Callum Robinson, Graham Burke and Riccardo Calder, who have all shown brief glimpses of first-team potential over the past season.
Nevertheless, Sherwood has stressed that he will not be bringing through homegrown talent just for the sake of it.
“I haven’t seen too much of the youth setup here but it’s obviously something I believe in,” he continued.
“But that’s the long-term view. Don’t expect too many Under-18 players playing on Saturday. It’s about me assessing them. They only play if they’re good enough.
“They’ve got to have the right application and desire to want to be a professional footballer – those lads at Tottenham, they all had that.
“That’s the long-term plan for the football club. Of course, we want to bring through our homegrown players.
“But, for the short-term period, we’ve got these cup finals from now until the end of the season and it’s all about winning.”
While that’s worth bearing in mind when it comes to Grealish, it’s also important to note Sherwood’s penchant for attacking football – something which would suggest that the teenager could at least prove a useful weapon off the bench for his new boss.
The former midfielder has declared that he wants his side to “get on the front foot” in their bid to avoid the drop over the coming months, and that could just lead him to look to the likes of the Republic of Ireland Under-21 international to provide an extra offensive spark.
“I was only looking from the outside but they have looked a little bit tentative,” he added. “I think they need to play on the front foot a little bit more.
“You are going to win games, you are going to lose games between now and the end of the season, but let’s have a go fighting and start throwing a few punches ourselves.”
While expectations surrounding Grealish should still be somewhat tempered to begin with, it’s reassuring to know at least that he now has a clean slate with a manger who’s track record suggest he’s just the kind of prospect that could thrive under his guidance.
No one believes he’s about to save the club from relegation himself, but the Solihull-native no doubt fits the bill of what Sherwood is looking for in his bid to get Villa playing with more freedom.