Once again, Jack Grealish has been making headlines this week for all the wrong reasons. Reports have emerged of late night partying at a Birmingham hotel, following Villa’s draw last weekend away to Ipswich Town.
The local police were called to the hotel in the early hours of Sunday morning with guests complaining of a rowdy party. Grealish was not amongst the twelve people who were asked to leave the premises but it is the Villa youngster who has taken all the flack in the press. Once again the conduct of Grealish off the field has called his place in the first team into question.
Back in 2015, former manager Tim Sherwood disciplined Grealish for being pictured apparently using nitrous oxide. The same summer, Grealish had been photographed unconscious following a night of partying with friends on holiday. Sherwood’s successor, Remi Garde, was the next to discipline Grealish, who following a 4-0 loss at Everton, was pictured in a Manchester nightclub. On that occasion, Grealish was sent to train with the youth team, during which he would miss two Premier League games.
This season presented a fresh start for all at the club, probably none more so than Grealish. Possessing undeniable talent, the club and fans alike were eager for Grealish to really push on this season and begin to produce the consistent performances that his ability promises.
To date, Grealish has scored twice in eight appearances this season, already making it his most productive season in Claret and Blue. Grealish was absent for the recent home draw with Brentford and it was undeniably obvious just how much the side missed his creativity. It was one of the first real instances during his career where the club could genuinely be deemed to have missed the player’s involvement and contribution. For much of his career to date, Grealish has flattered to deceive but the performances by in large this season have been a vast improvement.
This week’s reports will be of great disappointment to all concerned with the club, none more so than manager Roberto Di Matteo.
The Italian rates Grealish highly and recently rewarded him with a new four year contract. Whilst the worth of contracts in the modern game is questionable, it seemed to represent a maturing and a look towards the long term for the club. With new owners, Villa has big plans for the future and players such as Grealish are intended to be a part of that. This week’s events have called into question Grealish’s future with the club. Just how many warnings and passes can one individual have?
Former players have waded in with their views this week. Chris Sutton claimed that a player with less natural ability than Grealish, would have already been shown the door by the club. This is very hard to argue against as it would seem that Villa’s hopes for Grealish have led them to turn a blind eye to a certain extent.
Stan Collymore then wrote an open letter to Grealish, offering advice and help when required. Interestingly, Collymore used the example of two former team mates from his time at the club whom like Grealish, had all the ability in the world but went to live out very differing football careers. Those individuals were Lee Hendrie and Gareth Barry.
Both players were held in high regard by the club. One would eventually be released, plying his trade in the lower leagues and fighting battles with bankruptcy and depression. The other would become an England International, Premier League and FA Cup winner and recently make his 600th premier league appearance.
Grealish has recently turned 21-years-old and currently holds a record of 3 goals in 41 league appearances. With so much of the season left to play, Grealish will be aiming to have a real run of first team appearances in the side.
In comparison, by the end of the seasons during which both Hendrie and Barry had turned 21, they had a very respectable return; Hendrie having made 56 appearances, scoring six goals and Barry, notching up 94 appearances with three goals to his name.
Barry is by far the stand out in terms of appearances at an early age and much of his early involvement was due to his versatile style of play. Barry’s debut in the final game of the 1997/98 season saw him start the game in midfield against league champions Arsenal and end the game in a three man defence, following the sending off of Ugo Ehiogu.
The following season, Hendrie would earn his one and only England cap with a late substitute appearance against Czech Republic. It was an impressive cameo and the English press were talking of the emergence of a future star. Barry’s own debut would come two years later in a friendly against Ukraine.
Whilst Hendrie would never add to his solitary cap, Barry would go on to achieve 53 international appearances, scoring three times and appearing at the South Africa World Cup in 2010. As like any other footballer, both players would experience highs and lows during their time at the club with some excellent performances and losses of form along the way. By the time that Martin O’Neill joined the club, Barry had established himself as a midfielder and made the transition to central midfield with ease.
The switch would coincidentally see Hendrie’s time at the club come to an abrupt end. Hendrie had built a reputation for loving the finer things in life and was beginning to make as much noise off the pitch as his footballing exploits. Barry was seen as very much a key part of O’Neill’s plans and with rumours circulating of Barry and Hendrie stumbling out of nightclubs across Birmingham, the decision was made to separate the two and Hendrie’s time as the club was over. How influential this may have been on the decision is open for debate but without question, the lifestyle which Hendrie chose to live, influenced the end of his time at Villa Park.
By the time that Gareth Barry would eventually leave the club and join Manchester City, Lee Hendrie was plying his trade in the Championship for Derby County, following ill-fated stints at Stoke City, Sheffield United, Leicester City and Blackpool respectively.
Hendrie did not hang around at Derby for long and moves to Brighton and Bradford in league one and league two followed. A brief stint playing in the Liga Primer Indonesia league brought about little success and a return to England saw Hendrie end his playing days at a host of non league sides, finally bringing an end to his career in the Conference National League for Tamworth in 2013.
In contrast, during the same period of time, Gareth Barry made a total of 175 appearances in all competitions for Manchester City, winning both the Premier League and FA Cup. Whilst Hendrie was hanging up his boots, Barry would make the switch to Everton where he has made an additional 125 appearances, 103 of which have been in the Premier League and only last week made his 600th Premier League appearance. Only Ryan Giggs and Frank Lampard have made more appearances in the league and Barry is the highest ranked active player.
Without question, when Barry eventually calls time on his career he can look back on it with immense pride. He has managed to play the entirety of his career to date in one of the world’s leading leagues and has made 30+ appearances in each of his last 14 seasons. When Barry finally hangs up his boots he has a league, FA Cup winner’s medal and 53 caps to fondly look back on. In stark contrast, Hendrie has one cap to his name, an FA Cup runners up medal and Intertoto Cup success to his name. It’s safe to say that both careers took on very different paths.
The careers of Barry and Hendrie are a mixture of success and failure. Ability wise there was no question why either could not enjoy glittering careers at the top of their profession. Instead, decisions made off the field would have a telling impact.
Hendrie would later declare bankruptcy and following battles with depression, made two attempts to take his own life. Since then, Hendrie has aimed to turn his life around and has started a successful soccer school franchise and makes regular TV punditry appearances. It is pleasing to see that the game can give something back to Hendrie and in turn, Hendire can make a contribution back to the game which offered him so much.
Stan Collymore was absolutely correct with his assessment of Grealish’s current situation and the example of Gareth Barry and Lee Hendrie careers should serve as a stark reminder to all footballers, not just Grealish, of how short and precious a football career is.
Some will argue that Grealish is a young lad who is simply enjoying himself. That is absolutely fine. In many respects, Grealish will feel he’s earned the right to do as he pleases. It is immensely difficult to make it as a professional footballer.
The odds are firmly stacked against you but many feel that by simply signing a contract that they have made it. Yes, contractually they are a footballer and can enjoy the big wages, nice cars and holidays that go with it but there is so much more to the career that lies ahead. Players with far less ability than Grealish will achieve much more due to their work ethic and craft at their trade. In addition, players with far more ability than Grealish have also fallen by the wayside due to being unable to fulfil their potential.
Only last year, Grealish declared he would wish to represent England at senior level. Having turned his back on the Ireland set up, Grealish arguably missed the chance of regular international caps and even the chance of an appearance at the recent European Championships. Grealish is currently a long way away from making his full England bow. Playing in the Championship makes life all the harder for a player to represent England but the national set up, very much like his club team’s management, hold Grealish in very high regard.
This latest setback will lead many to question the attitude and work ethic of Grealish and the company which he chooses to keep.
There have been many cases of players mixing in the wrong crowds and becoming a financial support for hangers on who want the social life that comes with being a footballer. It is Grealish who has worked hard to get to this position and only he who can ensure it remains.
The club can only support its players so much. Eventually the penny must drop with the individual and a real life assessment made. Everyone is guilty of making mistakes and Grealish, not just in football terms, is still a very young man. With the correct people around him it is hoped that this latest episode can be put behind him and the focus solely return to matters on the pitch.
Grealish’s emergence into the side is similar to that of Hendrie. Both are local lads, representing the side they supported as a child. Villa fans, like many across the country, instantly warm to a local would be hero.
For so long, such traits served Gabby Agbonlahor well but a drop in form, coinciding with off the field conduct has left his reputation at the club being tarnished.
Grealish now needs to decide which path he wishes to take. He will be well aware of the club’s history, tradition and players who have gone before who have enjoyed the highest of club football success. That should be the aim and dream of all footballers, to achieve as much as they can in a short career. Grealish’s career is very much in its infancy and it is important that the latest setback be the final misjudgement. All concerned with the club will continue to support the player but eventually it is always down to the individual. Let’s hope the careers of Gareth Barry and Lee Hendrie serve as reminders of this.