Jack Grealish 'born to thrive at the highest level', says Aston Villa manager Dean Smith

England midfielder completed a British record move to Manchester City earlier this month

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has said he has no doubts over whether Jack Grealish will succeed at Manchester City, insisting his former captain was "born" to play on football's biggest stages.

Grealish, 25, joined Manchester City for a British record £100 million earlier this month having spent his entire career at boyhood club Villa, aside from a one-season loan with Notts County.

Despite the record fee - which matched a clause in Grealish's contract - Villa and Smith had hoped the midfielder would remain at the club, although the pull of Champions League football and working under City manager Pep Guardiola convinced the England international to time was right to move.

"We're all disappointed Jack chose to leave the football club because he meant so much to all of us, but we also understand why he left and wish him well - obviously apart from when he plays Aston Villa," Smith told Sky Sports. "We were probably 18 months behind where we needed to be to keep him, but we'll strive to get there.

"I thanked Jack for all our time together and he thanked me for everything I've done for him as well. I wished him well and told him not to be a stranger, so he'll remain one of my clan that I've helped along and we'll keep in touch, that's for sure."

After being Villa's most important player for the past three seasons, Grealish will now be one of a number of star players within City's squad, but Smith, who described Grealish as "the best player I've worked with", is convinced the midfielder will succeed at the Premier League champions.

"Jack will show what he's worth on the highest stage, in the Champions League - as he did at the Euros," Smith said. "In terms of what Jack can achieve, he'll thrive playing at the highest level. It's what he was born to do."

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Villa moved quickly to fill the void left by Grealish. Veteran English midfielder Ashley Young, Argentine winger Emi Buendia, and Jamaican forward Leon Bailey were all recruited before Grealish had left, while English striker Danny Ings was brought in soon after.

In a video explaining the details behind Grealish's departure, Villa chairman Christian Purslow had said the club had identified players who between them could replace his goals, creativity, and leadership.

"Buendia was coming to the club whether Jack was staying or going because we had become a bit overly reliant on Jack's creativity," Smith said. "I didn't want an over-reliance on Ollie Watkins' goals if Jack left. I think we've addressed that problem now.

On Bailey, Smith added: "I've always been a big believer that pace scares defenders, and Bailey's got that in abundance. He brings more pace into the team, it gives us different options."

Updated: August 11th 2021, 3:30 PM
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