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TBB Debate: Should Manchester United sign Jack Grealish?

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What do you think?

Manchester United v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Recently, Manchester United have been strongly linked with a move for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish. Yesterday, we at The Busby Babe discussed the merits of his signing.

It started with a link share and a simple request on The Busby Babe’s Slack channel...

NH: Someone convince me this is a worthwhile signing after his most recent eff up.

What followed was a brief 10 minute exchange between myself, editor-in-chief Brent Maximin and staff writer Colin Damms.

CD: I don’t like this idea at all so, not it.

BM: He’ll be cheaper than [James] Maddison, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer likes that he’s a leader. I really like him as a player, but have shared my thoughts here.

CD: Who does he start over though?

BM: When he gets to United, he’ll be in a MUCH bigger spotlight, won’t be a guaranteed starter, and will have big expectations from outside and from himself. Better players have wilted under similar conditions. He doesn’t go right into the starting XI. He’s essentially a [Juan] Mata/[Jesse] Lingard replacement.

NH: [Graeme] Souness better be ready to roast [Jack] Grealish at every other opportunity otherwise his dog whistles might be a lot more noticeable.

The initial discussion ended with the Notorious EIC providing his on-brand sage wisdom and me getting in a slightly off-topic barb. But, you know, Souness can shut the hell up, so it’s fine.

Soccer : UEFA Champions League - Real Madrid v Manchester United
Nerd.
Photo by AMA/Corbis via Getty Images

However, the conversation roared back to life after a 23 minute interim as two new fighters entered the chat in the form of staff writers Pauly Kwestel and Vince Rosetta...

PK: I love how everyone thinks we’re signing Grealish to be a starter. Team needs depth. Starters need to be pushed.

NH: I think people assume he’ll be a starter based on the price tag.

VR: Assuming Pogba stays, who’s odd man out?

BM: Grealish.

VR: Can’t do that (smiley face emoji).

BM: Which is fine. £60m is a lot, but for where we want to be, that’s the going rate for a borderline starter. Important to remember that our bench options are largely rubbish.

VR: Yeah but why spend that much for a bench player?

BM: He can play in enough positions/systems that he’ll still get a lot of time on the pitch, even if he isn’t starting every week. [And] you’re not buying a bench player. You’re buying someone good enough that they can compete for a starting spot. Even if right now, he’d be on the bench.

VR: Yeah, true.

BM: And as [Paul] Pogba - who never had a major injury - has shown us, a massive gap between starters and replacement is a trap door to mediocrity.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

NH: Similar to what Liverpool will experience when VVD eventually gets an injury. Or like [Manchester] City this year when [Aymeric] Laporte went down. Their form collapsed.

BM: Look at the average match day bench of the teams in the Premier League and in Europe that we mean to compete with. We need quality depth.

PK: (1) I don’t know if he goes for £60m (thanks, Covid!). (2) Price tag really doesn’t (and therefore shouldn’t) matter. (3) If he even brings up playing time, you tell him that City spent £67m on Mahrez and he wasn’t first choice.

It really amazes me how much of the fan base has gone back to the old years during this COVID time and raves about the depth we had under [Sir Alex] Ferguson, and then, when it comes to signing anyone, the response is, “well where would he play?” We need so much depth. If you have two matches a week, it ain’t the worst thing in the world for [Marcus] Rashford to only be playing 100-120 of those minutes.

NH: I’m all for depth and talent and spending big money where it’s needed. My main concern is are we setting ourselves up for failure because he has the potential to do something really dumb off the pitch?

BM: My only hesitation with Grealish is how he responds to not being first choice, and to being a medium-sized fish in a big pond. It’s easy to say, “I’m here to fight for my place,” but a whole other story when you’re competing with United’s 2-3 best players for playing time while the team is trying to win trophies.

PK: So, Grealish is on the bench, plays 25 minutes in the first few league games, plays 90 in the League Cup, and probably 60-90ish in the Champion League group stage matches. That takes you to the end of September which, by then, someone will have picked up a knock here or there, and Grealish will have had to play an extra game here or someone is out for three weeks. Now you need Grealish to pick up the extra minutes, etc.

That’s why you have a manager who is good at the man-management side of things.

Manchester United Press Conference Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

BM: Yep - that’s my concern. He’s a drinker. He’s grown up a lot, but everyone connected with Villa says he’s still a pisshead [Ed.: ALLEGEDLY].

NH: Exactly. I recognize his contribution starting or off the bench is worth the price tag. Him missing games because he gets in a bar fight or crashes a car feels like a risk that outweighs the reward.

PK: And that is why [Solskjaer] focused year one on changing the culture of the dressing room and bringing in strong personalities. [Harry] Maguire and Bruno [Fernandes] give [Grealish] one look and it’s, “right, we don’t do that here.”

As much of a pisshead as [Grealish] is [Ed.: ALLEGEDLY], he also really wants to play at the Euros and his England stock has never been higher. It’s still not high enough! He needs to build on that so I think he’d shape up.

Having said ALL of that. I’m still not really a big Grealish fan and would much rather us get Maddison. But Grealish can be available on the cheap and he is a good depth player (he is not good enough if Pogba leaves).

BM: You would hope so. But Maguire and Bruno got here yesterday. I want him to sign, but all those things you’ve listed are just as hypothetical as the potential drawbacks.

PK: Maguire got here yesterday but he’s already been named captain. He came in and took this team as his own.

BM: Lol. That’s a stretch.

PK: It’s very obvious the entire team respects him.

BM: Leadership vacuum, and [Maguire] stepped in.

PK: Ok. That’s fine. Someone had to do it and no one was.

NH: Selling your club captain in January definitely helps accelerate things.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Manchester United - FA Cup Third Round Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

BM: I think you’re being optimistic about the adjustment for Grealish, but I hope you’re right, because I like him.

PK: But also the reason you jettison the vets and not replace them is to say to players like Rashford and [Scott] McTominay, “this is your team now, step into that role.” It gives them a year to grab that role.

BM: I’d definitely be more concerned (in terms of fit/culture) if Grealish joined last summer.

PK: Part of the reason you sign someone in January is to give them six months to acclimate so you’re ready for next year. So, you have Bruno meshing with the rest of this team and when they hit preseason everyone’s on the same page, “right, this is what we want to accomplish this year. We’re not going to stand for any bulls—-.” And if you establish that culture and mindset throughout the squad, any new player will fall in right away. Otherwise, they’ll be left behind.

And if you’re Grealish, it wouldn’t be surprising to have the attitude of, “ok, I did my thing where I was THE GUY at a small club, I got my money and I’m getting PAID. Now, it’s time to win, and, in order to win, I have to get serious and this is what I have to do.”

BM: Again, sound logic. But still all hypothetical. When we’re talking off-field issues (and he’s had enough for it to be a thing), the logic doesn’t mean much. You’re describing it as so far-fetched as if it hasn’t happened to countless players at many clubs over many years.

PK: All true. We’ve also read a million stories this year about United’s new recruitment team and the analysts and how they’re putting emphasis on different things like personality because they were burned so hard by Alexis [Sánchez], and they didn’t even know [Marcos] Rojo had that investigation going on.

I just can’t imagine they would go through with a signing without OGS having multiple conversations with him and signing off on it. This isn’t going to be a, “I didn’t even know who that guy was,” (cough cough [Maurizio] Sarri) situation when they sign him.

BM: Anyway, as I said, I’m hoping for your optimistic scenario. Players have been boozers when they were younger and then sorted themselves out (Keano!), even though it’s somewhat more worrying in 2020.

Manchester United v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Clearly, some of us are apprehensive to jump headfirst into the Grealish hype as it seems incresingly likely that his signing could be announced even before the transfer window opens a la Hakim Ziyech and Chelsea.

Just watch the highlights when Grealish played against United. He is a very good player that hasn’t even peaked yet. The upside is evident, but is it worth the risk?

What say you? Let us know in the comments below what you think of Grealish. Does he fit in at United? Is he more trouble than he’s worth? Who would be your alternative to his signing?