Manchester United are expected to make a move for Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish when the next transfer window swings open, but Alex McLeish has revealed that the Red Devils could have landed the talented playmaker back in 2012.
At that time, a boyhood Villans fan was just 16 years of age and making his way through the a famed academy system in the West Midlands.
It was clear that his ability would one day take him to the very top of the game, with there obvious potential that could be unlocked on the grandest of stages.
United noted that and endeavoured to lure Grealish away from his roots and onto their books at Old Trafford.
Villa were able to fend off those advances, with a now 24-year-old going on to become a talismanic club captain for them, but it may be that history repeats itself in the near future as admiring glances from Manchester are once again shot in the direction of a highly-rated creative influence.
McLeish, who was Villans boss during the Red Devils’ first raid, told the Claret & Blue podcast of the interest Grealish generated in 2012: “At that moment we felt people were getting in contact with him to leave Villa.
“That was one of the main reasons to get him involved with us [in the first team].
“He would have been on the bench anyway because of the casualties we had. He was the best youngster coming through.
“When we played Man United we heard he was in a restaurant being courted by one of the agents to try and get him to Man United.
“We were a bit alarmed about that so we fought well to keep him. We knew he loved Villa, his old man as well. We had them in speaking to them. They're lovely people.
“They asked for something and the club went it's too much but, finally, you come to an agreement and everybody's happy.
“Jack stayed at Aston Villa, which is great to see one of the great players of Villa nowadays staying with his boyhood club.”
McLeish did name Grealish on the bench for a first-team fixture in March 2012, before a competitive debut was made in May 2013 on the back of a productive loan spell at Notts County.
It was clear to all of those at Villa that a home-grown star would make a breakthrough, with confidence and ability having never been an issue.
McLeish added on the role he played in Grealish’s development: “I'd see Jack with his famous socks down his legs! He had that swagger.
“Watching him as a kid on the field ghosting past people with the ball at his feet. You could see all day long he was going to be a star, no doubt about it, which is why we thought we'd have to pretty well keep him at Villa.
“When Jack came in I saw that, while he wasn't a big shouter, he was a boy who was willing to take the ball in any part of the pitch.
“The guy I likened him to at the time was Barry Ferguson. He could have played in any stadium in the world and Barry was fearless in taking the ball, saying: 'Just gimme the ball, just gimme the ball!'.”