Aston Villa youngster Jack Grealish may have just two minutes of Premier League football to his name, but fans could find themselves becoming well-acquainted to the promising winger over the course of the upcoming campaign.
The club’s most highly-rated prospect, the 18-year-old spent the majority of 2013-14 on loan at League One’s Notts County, where his performances were one of the key factors in the club’s dramatic escape from relegation, later returning to Villa to make his top-flight bow in a brief cameo against Manchester City.
Having previously starred for the youth, reserves and NextGen Series sides, several Championship teams were reported to be looking to take Grealish on a season-long loan for 2014-15 earlier this summer, but Paul Lambert’s decision to bring the Birmingham-born attacker on the side’s pre-season tour of Texas suggests first-team chances could be coming this season.
Impressing in 45-minute spells against FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo, respectively, his manager even singled the wide man out for particular praise, serving as an undoubted sign of things to come.
‘Young Jack Grealish did well for us. He's got a talent,’ Lambert said after his outing against Houston. ‘We just have to nurture him in the right way.’
With Villa’s side desperately thin on exciting, skilled talent, a player like Grealish is what the lineup has been lacking in the recent past and Lambert’s previous willingness to give youth a shot in the first-team only serves to increase the chances of Premier League minutes this season.
Undoubtedly one of the building blocks for Villa’s future, the Irish under-21 international is still far from the finished product but, with funds at a premium this summer, as want-away owner Randy Lerner struggles to find potential buyers, there are certainly opportunities to stake a claim to a place in the squad.
However, now entering the final year of his deal, Villa’s first priority should be tying Grealish up to a new long-term contract with his boyhood club, having already secured the futures of fellow academy products Callum Robinson and Gary Gardner last month.
As the club gear up for what looks set to be another challenging top-flight season, burdening the teenager with any serious expectations is far from the ideal scenario but, if he continues to excel in pre-season, then the calls for him to be given a chance in the Villa side are only going to get louder.
Will Jack Grealish make his first-team breakthrough this season?