As recently as 2016, nine-figure price tags were unheard of in world football. That summer, a new transfer record was set when Manchester United splashed out £89 million on returning Paul Pogba to Old Trafford from Juventus.
Just 12 months later, the lid was blown off a combustible recruitment market in spectacular style. Once Paris Saint-Germain decided they were willing to trigger the €222m release clause in Neymar’s contract at Barcelona, nothing would be the same again.
Six deals worth £100m-plus have now been completed, with one of those raising a British-based bar in 2021. Said agreement saw Jack Grealish become the most expensive player England has ever seen when Manchester City lured him away from his West Midlands roots at Aston Villa.
Jack Grealish. Premier League winner 🏆 pic.twitter.com/RS8xr2BOaX— GOAL (@goal) May 22, 2022
It was always a safe bet football with markets relating to the Premier League would side with the team from East Manchester, and a title triumph was duly delivered in 2022. Pep Guardiola’s side remains a reliable pick in football tips as the Etihad Stadium ranks are loaded with proven performers of the very highest calibre.
Grealish slips seamlessly into that category, but he is yet to truly convince since completing a history-making switch to the North West. With all eyes on him last season, just six goals and four assists were recorded through 39 appearances in all competitions.
City are, with an abundance of creative riches at their disposal, in the fortunate position of being able to carry the odd passenger. If the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva are pulling the strings, then time can be afforded to those still finding their feet.
There will, however, come a point when returns are demanded on sizeable investments. Despite boasting the deepest of pockets, billionaire owners in the blue half of Manchester are not in the business of throwing money away.
Guardiola has been keen to rein in expectations around Grealish, with the England international not in his plans to score 20 goals a season while teeing up a similar number of efforts for grateful teammates. He is there to occupy and torment opponents while contributing to the cause collectively.
The end product is a must, though, for any player operating in his position. He has shown what he is capable of, with hope carried almost single-handedly at Villa, and is no longer a big fish in a small pond. What does he need to do to justify City’s show of faith?
Jack Grealish scores on his home Manchester City debut and hits the Memphis celebration 👉👈 pic.twitter.com/7dRRoDOPCB— B/R Football (@brfootball) August 21, 2021
A domestic crown has already been claimed, but he can hardly be considered to have contributed tellingly there and City would probably still have prevailed without him. The Blues are also accustomed to collecting various domestic cups and actually drew a blank on that front during Grealish’s first season on their books.
With Champions League glory still proving elusive, it would appear that only the collection of a European trophy will allow the most elaborate purchase in British football history to be deemed a success. That is a big ask, particularly when competition for places is considered, but that is what you get for boasting the heftiest of price tags.