During the recent international break, Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish provided England boss Gareth Southgate with a welcome selection headache ahead of next summer’s European Championship.
The 25-year-old has arguably been the best performer so far in the 2020-21 Premier League season and was rewarded with his first international cap in August, but has now started England’s last three games after hitting the ground running at international level.
Indeed, it’s no surprise given his five goals and five assists in only nine Premier League games this season, and although the January transfer window is still a month away speculation is already bubbling around his future.
The Independent claim Manchester City are planning a bid for the midfielder next summer should he maintain his fine form, though other sources suggest Manchester United may try to steal a march on their neighbours by bidding in January.
Bookmakers have already opened the betting on his immediate future, with Paddy Power going 9/4 on Man City winning a January bidding war should United move first. United are 5/1 to sign Grealish before the end of the next transfer deadline.
Table toppers Tottenham have also been strongly linked with Grealish in the past, but with Spurs flying and in no apparent need to disrupt their flow with a new big-name signing, the north Londoners are out at 10/1 third favourites for his signature.
Reigning champions Liverpool have not shown any real interest in Grealish and as such they’re 12/1 outsiders for his signature, but with favourites City only given a price of 9/4 the general consensus is that the midfielder will stay with Villa until next summer at least.
Yet with almost every passing performance the question begs – just how long can Villa keep hold of Jack Grealish?
“It all depends on the direction Aston Villa go,” former Villa striker Julian Joachim told bookmakers.co.uk.
“They seem to have learnt a lot from last season when they looked like they might go down at one point, but thankfully they stayed up and it’s put them in good stead as a group of players it seems, they’re stronger for it.
“But even if they can become a bit more established in the Premier League and kind of stay mid-table I reckon they probably won’t be able to hold on to Grealish.
“Hopefully they can, but they just have to keep carrying on in the right direction, moving forward. He seems happy enough for now and hopefully he’ll stay there.”
Players are often lambasted for moving on to bigger clubs with bigger salary packets, but Joachim will be willing to accept Grealish taking an opportunity to play at a higher level, with Villa set to be handsomely rewarded when the time comes.
He said: “A lot of the time, clubs can’t afford to turn down the sort of money being offered for a star player nowadays, you have to look at that as well.
“It’s not just the players wanting to move to get big money, the clubs are the same. If the money is right, I’m sure they’d let most players go.”
So where does Joachim feel Grealish might end up? For all the rumours linking him with City, United and Tottenham, Joachim has a different idea of what the next step might be for Grealish.
“He’d fit in nicely at Leicester,” he said. “I’m a bit biased towards Leicester because I came through the ranks there and learned my trade there, so it’s closer to my heart than any other club, but it would be nice to see him go there in the future.”
Perhaps it is a biased view, as Joachim himself accepts, but given Leicester’s fifth-place finish last season – their best since winning the title in 2016 – and looking like a force again this year, is it really out of the question for the Foxes to win the race for Grealish’s signature?
“Leicester are now an established top six side, without a doubt,” said Joachim.
“They’ve proven it over the past few seasons, including that crazy season when they won the league, and rightly so as they were the best team by far that season.
“They were so consistent that season and that’s what it’s all about – knowing how to win games and getting over the line, even if you’re not playing well.
“There’s been many games over the past season when they’ve not played well but have been able to get over the line, and that bodes well – it’s the sign of a decent team.
“They’re still growing in confidence and belief but they’re a club moving forward.”
Brendan Rodgers’ side have already won away at Arsenal and Manchester City this season but their current Premier League title odds of 55/1 makes them sixth favourites in what has to date been a very unpredictable season.
However, Joachim is keen to point out that Leicester are fourth in the table with 18 points from 10 games, an indication of how good they are especially as they’ve had several injury concerns in defence.
“A few of their players are starting to come back gradually, so we’ll see how they get on when they’re fully fit,” he said.
“It would be nice to see a few more clean sheets but at times they’ve had to make do with a makeshift defence because of the amount of injuries they’ve had but all credit to the lads that have come in because they’re still up there.
“But without a doubt, Brendan Rodgers will be looking to bring one or two players in to strengthen things up in January.”
Whether one of those fresh faces will be Grealish seems doubtful, but the longer Leicester remain in top four contention at least, the bigger their transfer muscle could become.