Jack Grealish risks rebuilt image and potential move to Manchester United after coronavirus hypocrisy

Aston Villa midfielder was tipped for England and a lucrative move, but his behaviour amid the pandemic could change everything

If it probably counts as the most expensive night out Jack Grealish has ever had, that may be the least of his worries.

Aston Villa fined their captain £150,000 (Dh680,000) after he left his house on Saturday evening to see a friend and, whether or not he was driving, his Range Rover seemingly crashed into two parked cars.

Hours earlier, Grealish had released a video on social media. “To help save lives you must stay at home,” he said, echoing a message many in football have delivered.

“Only leave your house to buy food, buy medicine or to exercise and always remember to stay at least two metres apart. This is urgent, protect the NHS, stay home, save lives.”

His actions made him a hypocrite, flouting government guidelines designed to stop the coronavirus spreading. Reputational damage followed for a player who has transformed his image in recent years.

In a second video, a contrite Grealish then pronounced himself “deeply embarrassed.”

After many of the donations from some of the game’s luminaries, it felt like a case of a footballer assuming there was one rule for them and another for the majority of people. Or maybe it highlighted the flaws in the way society can expect them to be role models.

The surprise was that it was Grealish, a player who had seemed to mature quickly after youthful misdemeanours.

By 2019, he had been appointed Villa captain, leading them to promotion to the Premier League and then this season's Carabao Cup final.

Last March, Grealish kept his cool when he was assaulted by a Birmingham-supporting pitch invader in a Second City derby. Paul Mitchell was subsequently sent to prison for punching Grealish.

The midfielder’s reaction was impeccable, to the extent that he went on to score the winner. “The best day of my life,” he said in a post-match interview.

If his mistakes have come in his home city, his allegiance to Villa has been a constant. Grealish has the club in his blood, to the extent that his great-great grandfather Billy Garraty was a member of their 1905 FA Cup-winning side.

He has been on Villa’s books since he was six, made his debut at 18 and served as the inspiration in their 2015 FA Cup semi-final win over Liverpool.

Then problems emerged, on and off the field. Villa were relegated with an abject 17 points in 2016. Grealish began to excel in the Championship. Tottenham bid for him in 2018. Villa refused to sell and Grealish did not sulk.

Instead, he relished the responsibility he was given by manager Dean Smith, another Villa fan, skippering them to a club record run of 10 straight wins and then promotion at Wembley.

He had been a talisman again this season, totals of seven goals and six assists making him statistically the most productive winger or a midfielder in a bottom-half team.

His valiant efforts to spare Villa from relegation seemed likely to bring a personal elevation.

Grealish is of Irish descent but had long rejected Ireland call-ups to pursue his dream of an England cap. He had been overlooked but was expected to be selected by Gareth Southgate for the now-cancelled friendlies with Italy and Denmark.

Whether or not Villa stay up, Grealish has been on Manchester United’s radar. Until the Covid-19 outbreak halted the footballing calendar, it seemed very possible Grealish could soon be an England and United player.

Now either will face further questions about his character if they go for him.

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