Is Jack Grealish worth £100 million? Manchester City certainly think so, having shelled out a then-British record fee to sign the winger in the summer of 2021. Aston Villa felt he was worth that amount too, given the fact they doggedly refused to accept any less to prise him from their squad. But you will find precious few others willing to stick up for Birmingham-born star as a genuine £100 million player.
Grealish’s output of five goals and five assists across 41 Premier League games for City does not suggest the sort of elite attacker that goes for a nine-figure sum. But Grealish is becoming an increasingly important part of manager Pep Guardiola’s side. He’ll never be the talisman he was at Villa Park, where a combination of hometown hero status and big fish syndrome made him an unforgettable presence. But the 27-year-old has been a valued part of a Premier League title win and may yet be a central figure in another this season.
However, that price tag still hangs albatross-like around Grealish’s neck. If he scores or registers an assist, pundits will crow about how “He should be doing that every week”. If he doesn’t, the sizable fee will be derided as a waste of money. Through no fault of his own, Grealish now lives a life viewed through the lens of what a big corporation was willing to give a smaller corporation to acquire his services.
Grealish isn’t the only one to labour under this fate. He’s not even the most recent. The British transfer has always carried a stigma. The eye-watering sums of money thrown around in the Premier League, coupled with how often teams try to one-up each other in the market, dictates that someone has to be the most expensive player. But judging by recent examples of players whose fee broke the record, this dubious distinction hurts more careers than it helps.
A Champions League semi-final goal aside, Fernado Torres’ £50 million move from Liverpool to Chelsea in 2011 was a disaster. Paul Pogba’s £89 million switch from Juventus to Manchester United was made even worse by the fact the Frenchman had moved to Turin from the Red Devils on a free four years earlier.
Robinho had his moments in Manchester City blue, but his confusion over which club he’d actually signed for often carried over into his patchy performances. Andriy Shevchenko went from AC Milan’s second-top all-time scorer to an expensive mistake after swapping the San Siro for Stamford Bridge and Chelsea. You arguably have to go back two decades to find the last truly successful British record transfer. Rio Ferdinand’s £29.1 million move from Leeds United to Manchester United ended with the defender scooping 14 trophies and forming a generational defensive partnership with Nemanja Vidic.
But Grealish no longer has to carry the burden of being the most expensive player ever purchased by a British football club. That “honour” now belongs to Chelsea new boy Enzo Fernandez, who set the west London club back £106.8 million this January. Already, after a single game in blue, observers are already dissecting whether the former Benfica man looks to be worth his fee. It is a level of scrutiny no player could live up to, short of scoring a hat-trick and assisting another four on his debut.
But Jack’s loss and Enzo’s gain could be a net positive for Grealish. Already exerting greater influence at the Etihad, being freed from the British transfer record label could see him play with more freedom. The nine-figure fee will never leave him completely, but knowing others paid more for players can at least relieve some of the pressure. The result might be Guardiola gaining the footballer he thought he was signing when he originally shattered that record to bring Grealish in.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change