The days of elite clubs signing players purely based on their performances at international tournaments should be dead and buried.
In the modern era, where data is king and due diligence is the minimum requirement before making a transfer, playing three good games on a global stage ought not to convince or persuade anyone of anything. ‘Small sample size’ would be the phrase the data boffins use and they’d be right.
Manchester United made this mistake in 2014 when they signed Marcos Rojo after he’d helped Argentina to the World Cup final.
Rojo cost United £16million and would go on to start just 64 Premier League games in six seasons before leaving the club. His acquisition (and his subsequent, inexplicable contract renewal) was not United’s finest hour in the transfer market.
But the hope now is that with new transfer guru, director of football John Murtough, and with the wisdom of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer playing a major part in United’s recruitment process, these mistakes won’t be repeated. United will certainly be watching this summer’s European Championship with interest but their list of targets ought not to change, whatever happens over the next month or so.
And Jack Grealish wouldn’t come in the ‘Rojo’ bracket at all, let’s be clear about that.
United have been admirers of the Aston Villa captain for some time; Solskjaer has shown little reluctance to hide his admiration for the player, and a reprise of the club’s interest in Grealish this summer would make inordinate sense.
It just happens to be a coincidence — and a product of Grealish’s immense ability — that he will surely light up Euro 2020 for England this summer, providing he remains 100 per cent fit. Grealish put in another dazzling display for the Three Lions in their 1-0 friendly victory over Austria on Wednesday night, continuing to silence the doubters who have claimed he cannot cut it in international football.
It’s impossible to watch Grealish shine in a high-profile match these days without seeing a reaction from United fans on social media calling for his signature.
The 25-year-old ended speculation linking him with Old Trafford last summer by agreeing a new Villa contract — as United signed Donny van de Beek — but the move is said to appeal to him.
Solskjaer was asked about a possible transfer for Grealish way back in December 2019 and appeared to engage in a friendly exchange with the playmaker following a 2-1 win over Villa in January this year.
You suspect the Norwegian would love to have more reasons to go back in the market for a player of Grealish’s calibre, with the Midlander viewed as the ideal replacement for Paul Pogba if and when the Frenchman eventually leaves Old Trafford.
United should certainly be putting in place contingency plans in the event of a Pogba departure, given his contract expires in a year, and the fact so far Van de Beek hasn’t looked like the heir to the throne. It’s universally agreed that Pogba will take some replacing, for all his ups and downs at United.
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Grealish, whether playing for Villa or England, looks every inch a United player. From the on-field swagger, to the rolled-up socks and the deft flicks, you just know starring at the Theatre of Dreams wouldn’t faze him. He’s already done it in a Villa shirt.
The obvious caveat to all of this is the price tag Dean Smith’s side would understandably place on Grealish. He is contracted until June 2025, he is beloved by Villa fans and he appears to be a loyal servant to his boyhood club.
But if the United hierarchy are to give Solskjaer what he wants this summer, then Grealish — whatever the cost — should be right at the top of the list. The Norwegian needs to push hard to get the financial backing he deserves, and the players he covets.
Signing Grealish would be a statement of intent — although United might actually prefer if the player had a quiet time of it for England at the Euros this summer. Fat chance of that.