Sunday 25 September 2016

Richie Sadlier: Imagine what you would do in Jack Grealish's position before dismissing him as a clueless young fool

rsadlier@independent.ie

Published 29/11/2015 | 15:50

Aston Villa winger Jack Grealish
Aston Villa winger Jack Grealish

If you haven't watched it yet, don't bother. It's too upsetting. If you love football it will hit you hard. You are probably aware of how the person involved has been punished, but save yourself from seeing the sickening scenes for yourself.

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Yes, a 20-year-old footballer was filmed laughing and singing in a nightclub with friends last weekend. The footage suggests there may even have been some drink taken.

Jack Grealish was banished to the Aston Villa under 21s last week, or to put it another way, he was sent to train with players of his own age. Following last weekend's game at Everton, he was given permission to leave Goodison Park by himself rather than travel on the Villa bus with the rest of the squad. He ended up in Panacea nightclub in Manchester.

We know this because someone in his company filmed him using their mobile phone and it ended up being posted online. There were champagne bottles in the background, lit with sparklers for some reason, and one of his mates had a red balloon up to his own mouth. Some reports suggested laughing gas was involved, and all the reports I read stressed the fact that Villa had lost the game against Everton 4-0. How dare a player enjoy his free time after such a defeat?

If he was so inclined, Grealish could get plenty of advice and guidance from former players and managers through the media. He just needs to knuckle down, they say, and appreciate the opportunity he has in front of him. He needs to put football first, ditch his mates, and realise how many others would love to be in his shoes. And if he really cared about Villa or the club's fans, he wouldn't be so insensitive as to socialise in public within hours of losing a game. Even though he is young, the chance he has in front of him could be gone very soon.

Some of that is true, obviously. If the club see his socialising as a reason to drop him then he needs to address it. It has cost him his place in the first team this week, and who knows how long it will be until he returns? He has been told by the club that he needs to change so now it's up to him to respond, but there's a little perspective missing from how this story has been reported. All he is guilty of so far is acting like a man of his age.

I don't know what it would be like to be that young on a salary of around £1m. I have no experience either of being one of the most talked about teenagers in Ireland and the UK before I had even played ten games for my club. On top of all the media attention, Grealish also had two international team managers courting him privately and publicly for over a year.

I can't imagine how I would have handled any of that if it had happened to me.

I do know, however, what it's like to be 19 or 20 years old. Obviously there is sense to everything people say when they urge him not to drink, to avoid nightclubs, to blank his friends and to stay indoors. He might have started against Watford yesterday if he hadn't done what he did last weekend, but writing him off as a troublesome tearaway is way off the mark.

Maturity doesn't automatically come with signing a new deal or being named man of the match. Thirty-five-year olds aren't expected to run like they did in their 20s, and ones like Grealish don't always act with the wisdom of old pros. He might be better off being teetotal, introverted and having no friends who like to go out, but he's 20 years old, filthy rich and living his dream. Imagine what you would do with your Saturday nights if you were in that position. Consider that before dismissing him as a clueless young fool.

You can bet that if Villa had won 4-0 last weekend Grealish's antics would have been viewed differently. Players are entitled to a life away from their job as much as the rest of us. If you accept that, then criticising him more because Villa are on a bad run makes little sense.

Most reports I read mentioned how angered Villa fans must be with Grealish given their current plight. The two have nothing to do with each other, just as Wayne Rooney's form is not connected to him slapping a wrestler during a night at the WWE with his son. It's ok to make plans independent of the results of a football match. In fact, that's exactly how I think players - and supporters - should be encouraged to live their lives.

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