Manchester United nearly won the race for Aston Villa winger Jack Grealish, it has been revealed by former Villa manager Alex McLeish.
The 24-year-old has played for the Villans ever since he was in Primary School, and grew up in Birmingham as a local boy to the Premier League side.
Grealish has been a target for many top Premier League sides over the past couple of years, including Manchester United, who may have to fork out the reported £45millon release clause to sign him.
From a young age, Grealish stood out in Villa’s youth system. Academy manager Bryan Jones was especially keen to tie him down to a professional contract as he was about to turn 17.
Alex McLeish was manager of Aston Villa at the time, and ended up playing a major role in keeping the promising midfielder in the west Midlands.
Speaking to the Mirror, McLeish said: “Bryan told me Jack’s contract was coming up and he was getting courted by Man United.
“All the heads of department at Aston Villa discussed it in a meeting and I agreed with Bryan Jones 100 per cent that we had to keep him.”
Although Villa were relegated in 2016, leaving Grealish possibly questioning if he should have signed with United instead, it gave him the chance to shine in the second tier of English football and he won promotion with the club back to the Premier League in 2019.
At 24, he could be about to receive a call up from Gareth Southgate for the England senior side, as the Three Lions take part in two friendlies next month against Italy and Denmark.
His hard work and choice to stay with Villa, even when the English giants were interested, will arguably have paid off if he does win his first cap for the international side although manager McLeish made sure he stayed with a particularly generous contract.
“Maybe it was unprecedented money we were giving to an academy kid. But it has turned out to be a great bit of business for Aston Villa.
“I used to go down and watch the academy games and he was a precocious young talent and something you treasure.
“He stood out and wore his socks down even then. I remember his dad came in my office and we said we would do everything we could to make Jack happy and stay at Aston Villa.”
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Even though Villa had promised to keep Grealish happy, Man Utd had spotted his talent and arranged a meeting with him in 2012 at Rio Ferdinand’s restaurant, in an attempt to persuade him to sign for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
“We concocted getting him on the bench against Chelsea just to give him a taste.
“But the next month on the same day the first team were at Old Trafford, Jack and an agent were seen at Rio Ferdinand’s restaurant that night.”
Despite this heavy interest from United, McLeish felt that Grealish’s loyalty to Villa was never in question, especially with the connections that the star has to the city of Birmingham.
“I am sure Jack was really happy being wanted by other massive teams but you knew his heart was at Villa. It was just a case of sorting out a suitable package,” McLeish added.
He will need to make a huge contribution to the side if they are to ensure their Premier League safety, as they sit just one point above the relegation zone at this moment in time.
They also have the small matter of a Carabao Cup final coming up on Sunday against Manchester City (4:30pm), as they reached another Wembley final after games against Derby County and Arsenal at the national stadium in recent years.
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