Aston Villa and England star Jack Grealish is expected to decide this week whether to join Pep Guardiola's Premier League titleholders Manchester City or not. The 25-year-old's choice could shape his club and international future with a potential move from Villa Park to Etihad Stadium likely to set a new transfer record fee spent by a British club after Manchester United's $124 million for Paul Pogba in 2016.
Grealish joining City would also torpedo Villa's rapid recent development and ability to re-establish themselves as a major domestic power.
We look at what is at stake.
What is going on?
City have offered Villa in the region of $140 million for Grealish which must be accepted due to an unspecified agreement with the club that the bid will be accepted. In response, the Birmingham outfit have offered their captain and talisman an improved long-term deal which competes with the Citizens' proposal financially.
Manchester City are pushing to complete Jack Grealish deal “in the next few days”. Medical ready if total agreement will be reached with Aston Villa. 🔵 #MCFC— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) July 30, 2021
Official talks started two days ago with a deadline: agreement within next week or Jack will sign a new deal with #AVFC. https://t.co/UoqYU0ILzC
The big difference between the two bids is that City are five-time EPL champions, current titleholders, and UEFA Champions League regulars. Villa are swiftly restoring their reputation as one of the big boys of English soccer after returning from a three-year spell in the Championship (tier two) in 2019.
They won the European Cup (now UCL) back in 1982 and are one of the English game's most decorated clubs, but they cannot offer Grealish immediate European experience.
Why is Grealish's future important?
He is now a bona fide national superstar name due to his exploits with Villa and England but has no continental club experience and turns 26 next month. Grealish could add even greater quality to one of the strongest squads ever assembled in British soccer, but he is a boyhood Villa fan with a strong emotional link to the club.
He has so far resisted the temptation to leave in search of stronger guarantees of collective and individual success with Tottenham Hotspur rebuffed when Villa were in financial turmoil.
One-club men are increasingly rare in the modern game and despite a loan spell with Notts County and starting his international career with Republic of Ireland at youth level, Grealish has always been a Villa man.
Are there many one-club players?
No, AC Milan's Paolo Maldini, AS Roma's Francesco Totti, Barcelona's Carles Puyol, Manchester United's Ryan Giggs and Liverpool's Jamie Carragher are the most legendary one-players in the modern era.
Currently, Barca's Lionel Messi, Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller and CSKA Moscow's Igor Akinfeev fly the flag for active one-club men across Europe.
Grealish's short loan spell does not dilute his immeasurable love for Villa which adds to the fairytale nature of his recent rise to being the darling of English soccer without playing for a recognized giant.
Do City do this often?
This would not be the first time that City have used their financial muscle to weaken a rival Premier League club as Arsenal and Villa themselves can attest.
Samir Nasri, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy swapped London for Manchester between 2009-14 while Gareth Barry, James Milner and Fabian Delph moved to Etihad Stadium from Villa.
Those players all joined the Abu Dhabi-owned giants hungry for silverware which they all won before moving on elsewhere.
Why City & why now?
Guardiola's men are arguably the best team in the Premier League and one of the strongest in Europe with Villa unlikely to catch up with them despite their rich history and pedigree.
City, like Paris Saint-Germain in France and Bayern Munich in Germany, come as close to guaranteed silverware as you can find in Europe.
They are also hungry to avenge last season's Champions League final loss to Chelsea by adding the best Premier League talent to their star-studded roster with Grealish and Spurs' Harry Kane.
Interest in the Villa man is unlikely to go away but competition for his signature could increase and so too could his agreed exit fee in Birmingham -- if he opts to stay. Equally, it could lower as part of a deal to keep him in place for one final campaign.
Further injury struggles are a possibility with Villa or City after a tough start to 2021 which saw him miss most of the second half of the term. Grealish has not hidden his public admiration for City and Kevin De Bruyne, particularly in the UCL, under Guardiola's masterful leadership.
The case for staying with Villa
Grealish's decision would be easier if Villa had hit a barrier in the way that they did when Barry, Milner and Ashley Young faced the same dilemma and ultimately chose to leave (Young joined Manchester United).
The Martin O'Neill and Randy Lerner era saw the club hit a glass ceiling that they were never able to break through but that is not the case under wealthy current owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens.
In fact, Villa are taking such big and tangible strides under the Egyptian and American co-owner of NBA champions Milwaukee Bucks that European qualification is arguably expected this coming season after a solid mid-table finish consolidated their initial Premier League survival.
Now capable of beating the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, Villa need continental competition to keep the likes of Copa America-winning goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and rising English talent Ollie Watkins.
Young has returned this summer, Emiliano Buendia has been added and Leon Bailey is set to become the next quality addition to Dean Smith's improving squad and the belief is that with fellow Villa fan Grealish on board, the club could return to Europe and better the heights of O'Neill and Lerner.
Sawiris and Edens' impressive backing and deep pockets mean that the future is very promising indeed -- with or without their current superstar.
As a Villa fan myself, there is no denying that the heartbreak would be massive if Grealish does decide to move on. There will be no vilification of him by the masses, but the disappointment will be profound -- something that no amount of non-vital money will remedy.
Exciting news about Leon Bailey to Aston Villa. I think it is a move that will happen regardless of Jack Grealish's potential Manchester City switch. However, I think Villa would have been a tougher sell to the Jamaican if the captain was 100% off. Time will tell. #AVFC— Jonathan Johnson (@Jon_LeGossip) July 31, 2021
Grealish's commitment to Villa and role in the club's recovery from the depths of despair will never be erased, the simple fact of the matter is that City have brought into play an agreement which cannot be rejected -- only the player himself can now turn down the move.
In some ways, he cannot lose as he will either win the silverware and get the Champions League experience his ability commands in Manchester, or further write himself into Villa folklore in Birmingham.
Truly, it is the ultimate test of club loyalty and career ambition with all eyes firmly on Grealish this coming week.