Jack Grealish: Reacquainted with Himself
Anecdotes and Improvisations
Jack Grealish is part-footballer, part-raconteur. His alter ego lounges in a chair at the bar with a whisky and cigarette, rattling out stories. Like the time he repaired to New York after the World Cup and stayed in the Home Alone hotel, just about resisted the 16-scoop ice cream menu and rode around Central Park in a horse and carriage hurrying away from fans screaming: “I swear that’s Jack Grealish.”
Grealish returned to domestic action in the Carabao Cup, one of the few matches this season he has started on the bench. He concedes he was not expecting the call to action late in the game from Pep Guardiola. “I went back into training on the Wednesday and we were playing Liverpool on the Thursday. I thought, ‘there’s no chance I’ll be involved. Then in the f**king 70th minute he [Guardiola] tells me, ‘Jack, you’re going on’. I was like ‘F**king hell!’ Because I was blowing out of my arse. Luckily we went on to win.”
A New Level of Confidence
As he always does, Grealish improvised successfully to get the job done. He returns to international duty playing better than at any time since his arrival at City. The consistency he has shown has been rewarded with a regular starting berth under Guardiola, and with that has come confidence. He has in a sense been reacquainted with himself, with the player he was at Villa Park, a reference point, a leader, the man almost. “I feel like one of the main players, and I feel that playing a lot, it is the fittest I have been, especially since I have been at Man City. That comes down to playing a lot of games on the bounce and playing in big games, just making an impact really, scoring against Arsenal and United, getting assists at Chelsea away and then Arsenal at home in the Cup, big games like that. I’m really confident at the moment.”
Reinforcing Self-Esteem and Belief
Being selected ahead of a cohort including Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva has a way of reinforcing self-esteem and belief. “Definitely,” he said. “In the back of my mind that could be part of it. He [Pep] is trusting me in big games. And I do feel I have repaid him, played my part, done well. And I think that is why he is keeping me in the team. You know you have to keep the standards high, even more so now I’m playing for Man City. You have a dip in form or a few bad games and it turns into quite a big thing, ‘oh, Jack’s not playing’. There is a pressure to keep performing but that’s part of football and playing for a team that is challenging for every trophy.”
Big Dog Swagger
Even were Marcus Rashford fit, Grealish would have been hard to leave out of England’s starting line-up. Grealish brings “Big Dog” swagger to the piece, and is ready to transfer that aura to the international setting, an environment where he has yet to put down roots in quite the same way. Though England did not advance beyond the quarter-finals at the World Cup, they were beaten but not bettered by defending champions France and left Qatar with reputation enhanced.
The Belief of a Champion
Grealish senses that England have acquired the critical mass of champions. He offers the record at the last three tournaments – semi-final, final, quarters – as evidence of a performance arc, and references a squad not only rich enough in depth to deliver, but one that believes itself capable of doing so. “That’s a big thing. I thought the way the team played in that game [France] was brilliant. I thought we deserved to win even when you look at the stats – possessions, XG, shots on target. I think we were higher on all three. So it was a game we were devastated to lose, but it boosted the confidence going into these qualifiers. We’ve got a great team here. You look around and a lot of players are in really good form, whether that be Harry, Bukayo, Jude, myself, people playing well for their clubs. I feel like we’re in a really good space.”
The defeat by Italy at the Euros carries little weight with Grealish and provides little in the way of motivation. He and England are aiming higher. That is not to say a win against Italy in Naples would be anything other than substantial. “We haven’t had the best record there. I’ve played three times and we haven’t beat them. We drew once and lost twice. It’s a game we all want to play in and all want to win. You could say these are going to be our two hardest qualifiers – Italy and Ukraine. It will be an interesting game and I’m sure it will be a lively atmosphere at an iconic stadium.”
Bucket List Opportunity
Naples calls out as a bucket list opportunity, an event that in time might glow red with importance in the development of Grealish as an England player. He didn’t start a game at the World Cup but added ambition and drive, and a goal, the last of the six in England’s opener against Iran. Post-Qatar, he has shown at City a readiness to lead and a consistency previously lacking. If Grealish is good enough for Pep, that is guarantee enough for any manager, eh Gareth?