Aston Villa boss Smith responds to Grealish-Messi comparison

The England international was compared to the Barcelona star this week, but his coach says he does not remind him of anyone

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith says Jack Grealish can handle the pressure that comes with being compared to a star like Lionel Messi.

The midfielder was this week described as “Messi with a right foot” by Villa team-mate Emiliano Martinez, who added that he is “the most talented player” the goalkeeper has ever seen.

With six goals and 10 assists in 21 Premier League appearances this season, Grealish has been the star of the show for Villa, who sit ninth in the table and just five points behind the Champions League places.

Smith is happy with the way Grealish has reacted to the praise that has been heaped on him in recent seasons but refused to compare him to any other player.

“Jack handles it very well and yes, he gets stick off the rest of the lads. But he also handles that very well and gives as good as he gets,” he told reporters.

“There is not a person I can look at and say yes, Jack is like him. He is very unique in the way he plays. He handles the football well as everyone knows.

“I have always said his biggest strength is balance. With or without the ball people try and knock him off his feet and he has great balance when running with the ball. He is just turning out to be a really top player.

“I have only seen Messi in the flesh once. Certainly Emi is in a better place to judge than I am. I am happy with what Jack is producing at the moment both on the pitch and off the pitch.”

On Villa’s European hopes

Villa can move to within one point of the Europa League place on Saturday if they get the better of Brighton, but the manager has no interest in discussing their chances of sealing a place in continental football next season.

“It’s a mere distraction at the moment as we’re only 21 games in. There’s a long way to go still and we haven’t played Everton or Tottenham in the league yet,” he said.

“There are games that we haven’t played because of Covid-19 this season, so it’s been a strange one but a good one in terms of our consistency.

“We’ve been a bit up and down over our last couple of performances – very good against Arsenal and not so good against West Ham.

“The performance against Arsenal is more of what we want to see from our players.”

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