Aston Villa's Jack Grealish showing gulf between Tim Sherwood and Paul Lambert

Jack Grealish

The teenage attacker has been allowed to thrive in recent weeks thanks to his new manager's refreshing approach.

At the age of just 19, Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish stole the show in the weekend’s 2-1 FA Cup semi-final victory over Liverpool, showing just why he’s been tipped for such a bright future in the game.

With three consecutive starts now under his belt, the teenage attacker has rewarded manager Tim Sherwood’s faith in him on each occasion with performances which have belied his tender age, demonstrating all the class and confidence of a seasoned veteran.

Standing out with his pace, skill, passing and work rate, Villa fans could be forgiven for getting excited about his potential and, while the Birmingham-native remains far from the finished article at this point, there is little doubt that he now has the ideal mentor in Sherwood.

Having developed an outstanding reputation for nurturing homegrown talent during his time at Tottenham Hotspur, the new Villa manager’s appointment was hailed as excellent news for the likes Grealish and fellow star prospect Callum Robinson and, just nine weeks into the job, the effect is noticeable.

Instilling a new sense of belief and attacking freedom into the side, the likes of Grealish and fellow semi-final hero Charles N’Zogbia have been given license to express themselves and thus thrive during the club’s mini revival, in a manner which has made the gulf between the departed Paul Lambert and Sherwood all the more clear.

Under Lambert, Villa were timid, boring and almost never took the shackles off, even when behind, with the Scot’s lack of confidence and direction growing ever-evident with each dour result.

In Grealish, he had an exciting, local prospect, who could have helped add a much-needed creative spark to the team but instead spent most of his final months in charge either warming the bench or turning out for the reserves.

Whether Lambert believed he was holding him back for his own good remains unclear but Sherwood has since demonstrated that his reservations were rather unfounded and, in the grand scheme of things, could well have contributed towards his sacking.

“It’s a challenge for him - he’s got to earn the right to get in,” Lambert told the Birmingham Mail in December regarding Grealish’s lack of action.

“As a young player coming on there is no level of expectation and no criticism from the crowd so he has got that freedom at the minute.

“Jack’s time will come where he is playing week in week out, then the pressure comes where he has to perform.

“I thought he did really well against Sunderland but he has got an awful long way to go.”

Those comments are far from disparaging but there’s a clear sense of trepidation which is absent from Sherwood’s approach to his star prospect’s development – a stance that so far seems to be bearing fruit.

Speaking to the club’s website following Grealish’s first top-flight starts against QPR, Sherwood said: “He's not fazed. He knows the fabric of the club. He knows every turnstile at Villa Park. No-one cares more than Jack Grealish.

"But it's not just about his heart and desire to keep this club in the league. It's also about his ability and what he carries.

"He's aware, he can open teams up, he can dribble past people, he's got a massive future at this football club.

"Jack really cares about this football club. I need people who are going to fight for the cause. Not only has he got the hunger, he's got the ability too.

"If I wasn't sure about him, I wouldn't be putting him in. I looked for a No.10. I looked at my options. He was my No.1.”

Sherwood earned some criticism back in March when he suggested that Villa’s squad was better-suited for Europa League football rather than a relegation battle but, after 10 matches at the helm, it’s become clear what his point was.

While Lambert thought the club’s position in the table meant grinding out results was the route to take, he had the talent at his disposal to make them a far more adventurous side, which, on paper, should have been no worse than the likes of Stoke and West Ham.

He was simply playing the wrong style of football for getting the best out of Grealish, loanee Tom Cleverley, N’Zogbia and others, and Sherwood’s brief reign has already demonstrated that.

Perhaps the magic will wear off in time but, judging from what we've seen so far, Villa fans can be optimistic about the future for the first time in a long while.

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