Man City pays record fee to sign Grealish from Aston Villa

Manchester City's English midfielder Raheem Sterling (R) vies with Aston Villa's Zimbabwean midfielder Marvelous Nakamba (L) and Aston Villa's English midfielder Jack Grealish (Image: LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images)

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Premier League champion Manchester City broke the British transfer fee record on Thursday to sign midfielder Jack Grealish from Aston Villa.

City paid a fee of 100 million pounds ($139 million), Villa chief executive Christian Purslow confirmed. That’s the most ever paid by a Premier League club.

The 25-year-old Grealish signed a six-year contract with manager Pep Guardiola’s squad.

“City are the best team in the country with a manager considered to be the best in the world — it’s a dream come true to be part of this club,” Grealish said in a team statement. “To play for Pep and learn from him is going to be special and it’s something any top footballer would want.”

The previous record fee was the 105 million euros ($124 million) that Manchester United paid Juventus for midfielder Paul Pogba in 2016.

Addressing Villa supporters, Purslow said in a video Thursday that the team set Grealish’s price at 100 million pounds last year when they extended his contract. Several teams expressed interest this summer, he said, but below the target.

“We simply refused to entertain those approaches. Finally, Manchester City notified us that they would be willing to pay the 100 million pounds it would take to trigger this clause,” Purslow said. “Ultimately, (Grealish) said it boiled down to wanting to play Champions League football now.”

The Birmingham-born Grealish had spent his whole career with Villa, with one season on loan to lower-tier Notts County in 2013-14, and now joins a formidable midfield with Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and others.

“Everyone knows how much I admire Kevin. It’s going to be a dream come true to play alongside him,” Grealish told club media. “Competing for trophies, for major trophies is something that I wanted to do. … Playing in the Champions League was a massive thing for me — I haven’t done that yet.”

Grealish said the 21-year-old Foden is “like a little brother. When you have a connection with someone off the pitch, you can transfer that onto the pitch as well.”

The attacking midfielder was a bit of a late bloomer as a superstar, only debuting for England in September 2020. He originally played for Ireland at youth levels before switching to England in 2015.

Easily recognizable with his swept-back hair and bulging calf muscles, Grealish carries the ball superbly and with such pace and directness that it is no surprise he is constantly fouled.

“Jack’s development over the past few seasons both for club and country has been plain for everybody to see,” said Txiki Begiristain, City’s director of football. “His natural talent together with his commitment to improve as a player has seen him become one of the most exciting attacking players in world football today.

“Pep loves the way he plays, and we all feel he is an ideal fit for Manchester City,” he continued. “Our style and his style are a perfect match.”

Grealish was part of England’s team in the European Championship, though mostly as a substitute — and fan favorite. England lost to Italy in the final.

Grealish will wear the No. 10 shirt, which became available when striker Sergio Aguero left the club for Barcelona.

The playmaker made his Premier League debut in May 2014. Villa later slipped into the second-tier Championship but Grealish helped the squad win promotion after the 2018-19 season. The team finished 11th last season.

Grealish scored 32 goals and compiled 43 assists in 213 appearances for Villa.

City kicks off the new season at Tottenham on Aug. 15.