Jack Grealish is possibly England’s most misunderstood player. Criticised for a lack of commitment because of his penchant for a night out, but one of the last off the training pitch.
A party-boy reputation, yet one of the most generous with his time for others. A joker whose jokes can get him in trouble. One of the most expensive attackers in history, who barely gets any goals or assists.
This is the world according to Jack Grealish…
There was rarely a drink out of Grealish’s hand during Manchester City’s Premier League title-winning celebrations, and that continued when he flew straight to Ibiza. But it’s caused some to question how committed he is to justifying his £100m transfer fee.
Grealish says: “Just speak to people I work with every day and I swear, if you go and ask Steve [Holland] or Gareth [Southgate] or any of them, ‘Is there anyone in this squad who loves football more than me?’ Every day they have to say to me, ‘Come on Jack, get in now, get off the training pitch,’ because I love playing football and training.
“I like to go out and enjoy myself but I always know for a fact that when it comes to football, training and stuff, you’ll find it hard to meet someone who loves football and loves having a ball at his feet as much as me.”
England were the best thing since sliced “veg” after hitting six past Iran in the opening game of the Qatar World Cup. But the naysayers descended on the players following the goalless draw with the USA which followed.
“I’ve seen a lot of stuff and it was quite annoying for me,” Grealish says. “Obviously we started the first game we were brilliant and we were the best thing since sliced veg. We draw one game… It’s 90 minutes, you know. I remember reading some stuff and thinking, ‘F**king hell, give us a break.’”
Grealish doesn’t play fantasy football himself – “I love my football, but I can’t be arsed with it” – but that doesn’t stop him being pestered by his mates for the inside steer on who Pep Guardiola is planning on picking for Manchester City’s starting XI. “Everyone loves it,” he says. “I get about 100 messages every week saying, ‘Is Haaland starting?’”
Fallout with Almiron
Grealish was never far from a camera or microphone during City’s open-top bus parade after winning the title. But he did regret an innocent joke he made at Miguel Almiron’s expense.
Asked by Bernardo Silva what was behind City’s final-day comeback against Aston Villa, Grealish joked that taking Riyad Mahrez off was key because “he played like Almiron”. It didn’t go down well with Newcastle fans, as Grealish discovered a few days later when he checked his social media while in Ibiza.
Grealish texted his former team-mate, Matt Targett, now at Newcastle, asking him to apologise on his behalf. And Almiron even didn’t hold a grudge in a recent interview.
“I’m actually buzzing the way he’s reacted,” Grealish says. “He said something about me in the interview the other day, he wished me the best. I thought, ‘What a guy man,’ because if that was me and somebody had said that about me, I’d have probably been the other way and been like, ‘F**k it.’”
Assists are over-rated
Look away now, Opta. Grealish thinks people are too obsessed with goal and assist statistics – particularly the latter. How does he feel about only having one Premier League assist in 2022? “It’s mad, innit, really?”
“I do think nowadays – goals and assists – it’s all that people go on about. Look, I want to get goals and assists. I was winding Bernardo [Silva] up not too long ago because he got two assists in a row by passing the ball to Joao Cancelo on the edge of the box, Joao cut in and put it top bin. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be an assist, it should be an assist but people just go on so much.”
Bernardo’s big balls
Grealish rises to his feet, unable to stay seated while he explains how Bernardo Silva totally changed his perspective on football.
“The way his brain works is crazy,” Grealish says. “He will go and get the ball off the keeper and dribble with it from the six yard box. I remember one game last season: the manager told Bernardo to come get the ball off Ederson. So Ederson puts the ball down, gives it to Bernardo who goes off on his little dribble around.
“I was like ‘what the f**k does this c**t think he is doing, he thinks it’s school football’. It was unbelievable. But he is unbelievable – he doesn’t get loads of goals and assists. But the way the way he takes the ball under pressure.
“Pep says he wants us to show balls, wanting the ball under pressure when then opposition crowd are against you at Anfield when everyone is whistling and you’re saying give me the ball. That is Bernardo in a nutshell.”
Heart of gold
Grealish has bit of a party-boy image, but he’s also constantly sharing his time with fans, most recently video-calling young fan Finlay – who has cerebral palsy, like Grealish’s younger sister Holly – from England’s training camp after whipping out the arm-wiggling “worm” celebration when he scored against Iran, which he’d promised Finlay in a previous meeting.
“I don’t do that for any clout or whatever,” Grealish says. “I do that because that’s what I feel I’m good at sometimes. Because I can relate to it, with my little sister.
“Because it was so popular it’s nice for him because he’ll go back to school and he’ll probably be like quite popular. That was just something that came naturally. I think it ended up being so nice and quite emotional.
“That’s just the way I’ve been brought up. I know I’ve been brought up well. I’ve got a good heart. Obviously I’ve done stupid stuff in my life but I think everything that I do good is from my heart.”
He adds: “With my little sister, she’s been to the games but she can only see from here to them sofas over there. She’d never be able to, like, see me or anything, ‘cos she’s obviously visually impaired.
“She just sits there on her iPad, she’s addicted to Coronation Street, so she watches Coronation Street from 1998!”