Dean Smith let Jack Grealish 2.0 slip through their grasp

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Aston Villa have been a team inspired by the arrival of Unai Emery, with the Spaniard installing a new level of aspiration to the squad at Villa Park.

The former Arsenal manager took the reins from Steven Gerrard in October 2022, transforming the outlook in the Midlands by guiding the club from 16th to 7th in less than a year in charge.

The squad, the staff and the fans seem to have adapted as well as possible to the four-time Europa League winners’ style, with only Pep Guardiola as of the end of August winning more points in the Premier League this year than Emery.

Along with making vast improvements on the pitch, the Spaniard orchestrated a successful summer transfer window, securing the signatures of five new faces welcomed in order to bolster the squad.

Emery, joined by his former Sevilla colleague Monchi, broke the club’s transfer record fee to obtain Moussa Diaby, confirming the signing of their number one target in a deal worth £51.9m.

This summer, Villa were able to deliver their primary target, however, this hasn’t always been the case, with one of Dean Smith’s wanted men failing to make the move to Villa Park as hoped.

Aston Villa summer arrivals


Fee (via Sky Sports)

Moussa Diaby

Bayer Leverkusen


Pau Torres



Nicolo Zaniolo



Youri Tielemans

Leicester City


Clement Lenglet



Looking back, the signing of Emile Smith Rowe could have been an integral addition to the squad as it is today, but Smith learned the hard way that things aren’t always possible in the transfer market.

Did Aston Villa nearly sign Emile Smith Rowe?

Rewind to the summer of 2021, and Arsenal starlet Smith-Rowe was the playmaker wanted at Villa Park when the team was led by Dean Smith.

It was reported at the time that the Midlands side had two bids rejected for the midfielder, who was a 20-year-old at the time, with the highest offer being in the region of £30m.


This summer, it was deja vu at Villa Park, with Emery speculated to be eyeing a reunion with SmithRowe, as talkSPORT claimed that Villa were back on the Englishman’s tail.

Why didn’t Aston Villa sign Smith Rowe?

As well as Villa, Chelsea were linked to the 23-year-old, however, the outcome has remained the same as it did in 2021, with the Hale End graduate remaining in north London.

Arsenal were adamant on both occasions that their number 10 was not for sale, with him being a favoured member of the squad having been at the club since the age of just 10 years old.

It wasn’t a case of the Gunners wanting more funds, but more the case that the attacker was not permitted to leave the club due to how highly he is regarded in north London.

What is Smith-Rowe doing now?

It was understandable why Smith was eyeing the Arsenal youngster in 2021, as the midfielder contributed to 14 goals in 37 appearances in all competitions in the 2020/21 campaign, scoring seven and assisting seven.

The interest in the Englishman seemed to inspire his place in the squad at the Emirates, as the season after, he became a regular squad member for his boyhood club.

In 33 Premier League appearances, the Londoner scored ten league goals, as well as registering two assists to showcase just the level he could operate at if given the chance.

The 2021/22 campaign marked a high point in his career, and unfortunately, the youngster has been unable to reach such levels since then due to a lack of game time and opportunity in the squad.

While it’s celebrated for those associated with Arsenal that Mikel Arteta has discovered his best XI, Smith Rowe is an outsider to the favoured line-up, having made just 15 appearances since his impressive 2021/22 season.

This term so far, the 23-year-old has been an unused substitute in all five of the Gunners’ Premier League games, making his unavailability in the transfer window all the more frustrating.

What is Smith-Rowe’s market value?

Villa bid £30m for the midfielder in 2021, which was a fair offer considering that the England U21 star had an expected transfer value (xTV) of €21m (£18m) and was in the process of signing a contract extension with his club, via Football Transfers.


The academy graduate’s value hit a high the following summer, as it soared to €39.8m (£34m), however with his game time restricted due to competition in the current squad, his expected value has decreased dramatically.

At present, Smith-Rowe is valued at just €13.6m (£11.7m), telling of how disused his services are in north London of late.

What are Emile Smith Rowe’s best qualities?

The summer that Smith was pushing to sign Smith-Rowe, Villa replenished their creative talents and the loss of Jack Grealish with Emiliano Buendia instead, who posed as an alternative to the Englishman positionally.

While it was evident that Villa would’ve preferred to have equipped both players to their squad, the Argentine was the only player out of the two to be delivered to the Midlands, making the £38m move from Norwich.


In hindsight, signing the Englishman may have been the better choice with the knowledge of how the former Canaries ace’s Villa career has gone so far, with Smith Rowe having the capability to thrive to a higher level in the top-flight.

The season after the interest, Smith-Rowe had a hand in 12 goals for Arsenal, while Buendia contributed towards ten for Villa, scoring four to the Gunners star’s ten that campaign.

Away from goal contributions, the England U21 international put in some more assured performances on the pitch compared to Buendia, as highlighted by his averages that campaign.

[FBCharts] Emile Smith Rowe

As per FBref, Smith-Rowe registered a pass completion rate of 82.9% per 90 as well as recording an average of 3.05 progressive carries per 90 for his boyhood club, showcasing his strengths in ball carrying and distribution.

Such traits saw him lauded and notably compared to a former Villan. Indeed, talkSPORT pundit Tony Cascarino said in 2021 that the Gunners starlet has “got that Jack Grealish about him.”

Buendia happened to fall short in both decimals during his debut season at Villa Park, maintaining a pass completion rate of only 78.8% and making an average of 1.90 progressive carries per 90; hardly a talent worthy of replacing Grealish.

Lauded as “incredibly prolific” by talent scout Jacek Kulig for his scoring rate of 0.47 non-penalty goals per 90 in the 2021/22 campaign, Smith Rowe showed Villa just what they were missing, with the Villans’ new arrival averaging just 0.19 per 90.

Following his four goals in his debut season, Buendia has only added five more to his tally in the Premier League, with his level of performance in the Championship not yet translated to the top flight.

Smith was unfortunate not to have obtained Smith Rowe, who was simply not for sale at the time of his interest, however, with hindsight in mind, the Midlands side will look back wishing that the situation had been different at the time.

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