How a FaceTime chat with Aston Villa's owner persuaded Jack Grealish to stay at the club

Birmingham-born club captain will stay at Villa for another five years, on a contract worth at least £125,000 a week

It was shortly before Aston Villa’s friendly against Manchester United on Saturday afternoon when Jack Grealish had a FaceTime call with Nassef Sawiris, the club’s co-owner.

Grealish had already been summoned for talks with Dean Smith and chief executive Christian Purslow over the prospect of signing a lucrative new contract, hours before the game against one of the clubs who had been considering signing him.

The 25-year-old was already open to committing himself to a new long-term deal, but it was that inspirational chat with Sawiris that ultimately set the wheels in motion.

He is now in line to become the best paid player in Villa’s history and, as club captain, will be the talisman for what the board hope is a brighter future.

Villa scrambled to safety on the final day of last season, yet there is a clear determination from Sawiris, and his partner Wes Edens, to eventually establish this famous old club as one of the top six in the Premier League.

They are on the brink of taking their summer spending to £75 million this summer with the captures of Emiliano Martinez and Bertrand Traore, following the club record signing of Brentford forward Ollie Watkins and Nottingham Forest full-back Matty Cash.

Further signings are expected before the transfer window closes and Villa’s hierarchy are determined to prove they mean business as serious players.

By persuading Grealish to stay for another five years, with a contract worth at least £125,000 a week which will take him into his early 30s, there cannot have been a bigger statement of intent. 

Villa’s work in the transfer window so far has also convinced Grealish that those days of fighting relegation every season could be consigned to the past. 

Scrapping around the bottom three is not what Sawiris and Edens envisaged when they purchased the club in the summer of 2018.

Nassef Sawiris (right) and Wes Edens (left) have grand ambitions for Aston Villa Credit: GETTY IMAGES

It is not where Grealish wants to be spending the peak years of his career either and, unfortunately, relegation battles have become the norm for him at this level.

In his first proper campaign in the Premier League, Villa were relegated without a whimper, amid a fractious atmosphere around the club.

Last season was also an arduous slog and it was only his goal in the final game at West Ham that saved them from dropping into the second tier again.

By his own admission, it was a lucky escape. After the 4-0 defeat at Leicester  City in March, days before the season was paused as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, Villa looked doomed to relegation. 

If Villa had dropped out of the league, a move away would have been inevitable. Despite Grealish’s love for the club he joined at the age of six, nobody could have faulted him for considering it.

The lure of operating in the Champions League at either United or Manchester City was a huge incentive, while a few weeks ago there were fears that he would never fulfil his ambition of playing for England.

Last week, however, Grealish finally made his international debut against Denmark to fuel Villa’s board with renewed confidence that a new deal could be sorted.

On Saturday afternoon, before that friendly against United, talks began. In a whirlwind 48 hours, negotiations were concluded in the early hours of Tuesday morning ahead of an official announcement.

Grealish signed a new five-year deal on Tuesday morning Credit: GETTY IMAGES

It is understood the five-year contract contains a lucrative pay rise and a significant release clause, protecting Villa in the event of a bigger Premier League club coming in for Grealish next year.

Yet the message to him from Sawiris was clear: Villa do not intend to be struggling down at the bottom again, and this transfer window is proof that they are moving in the right direction.

There is a tangible wave of optimism around Bodymoor Heath and in a few months there will be the opening of a new state-of-the-art training centre.

Other key players, such as Tyrone Mings, John McGinn and Douglas Luiz, are expected to be offered improved terms in the next few weeks, too.

The summer spending will also continue, but Villa will not make a more crucial signing this summer than “Super Jack”.