Dean Smith has insisted that his Aston Villa side must push for European qualification if they are to keep ambitious captain Jack Grealish at the club.
The England international has carried his stellar form in the Championship into the top-flight, with this season, in particular, seeing the Villa youth product emerge into one of the most creative players in the Premier League, with him notching five goals and five assists in just nine league games so far this term.
The 25-year-old impressed on England duty back in November and could potentially be in line for a regular starting berth under Gareth Southgate despite the wealth of attacking talent at his disposal.
The forward recently signed a new long-term deal at the club after having previously been linked with a move to Manchester United, yet that extended contract has done little to quell the speculation regarding his future at Villa Park.
That being said, Villa boss Smith was keen to talk up his excellent relationship with his captain and remind the wider world of Grealish’s love for the club as a boyhood Villa fan, ahead of their clash with Wolves on Saturday.
Manchester United are still keeping tabs on Jack Grealish, according to The Athletic 👀 pic.twitter.com/Tr46sOmrWT
— Goal (@goal) December 10, 2020
“I’ve built up a very good relationship over my two years at Aston Villa with Jack and we know each other inside and out,” Smith told Stadium Astro.
“He wanted to progress and wanted progress as a footballer first and foremost at Villa.
“It’s his team, he grew up as an Aston Villa fan, he’s been here a long time and I’ve always had that feeling that he didn’t want to leave.
“He wanted to continue the journey of being progressive with the football club.”
While Smith was keen to praise Grealish’s dedication to the club, he appears fully aware that his side will need to kick on and attempt to break into the top six in order to match their star man’s ambitions.
“If we don’t keep progressing and become a club that’s challenging in Europe then we probably won’t meet Jack’s ambitions and there will be a time where Jack looks elsewhere then,” he added.
“At the moment, he can see the progression at the football club and he wants to be a part of that.”
Aside from the links to Old Trafford, Grealish has also been linked with Manchester City in recent weeks.