BURTON-UPON-TRENT, England – Jack Grealish arrives at the St. George’s Park media center nearly an hour late for his designated duties, but with good reason.
“I just woke up,” he told reporters as he sat down with a smoothie in his hand. “I take an afternoon nap every day. I’m not the same man without it.” And this man is someone England fans have taken to heart this summer, despite only having started once in the team’s race to the Euro 2020 quarter-finals.
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English fans at Wembley have chanted his name – “Super Jacky Grealish” – in every game to date, even on three occasions when he was just jogging along the sideline to relax, always ready to take on the role of creator in-chief.
Gareth Southgate’s side have been extremely well organized so far – have yet to concede a goal and win three of the four games – but sometimes lacked a spark in the final third. This is why Grealish is a part of this squad: He has regularly supplied it to Aston Villa as Premier League champions Manchester City are ready to part with £ 100million so he can also do it at the Etihad.
“At Villa the fans give me so much love: I go there and try to pay them back,” he said on Thursday. “When I come here it’s different. I get booed every week by these fans. When I watch [the World Cup] in 2018 in Russia, it was something that brought the nation closer together.
“When I talk to my mom [Karen] and dad [Kevin] they think it’s so good that people are not going to tell him, if he was in Villa, we would boo him every week. They all give me that support and they do it for the whole team. “
England’s relationship with their fans has transformed during Southgate’s tenure as players are encouraged to express who they really are. Grealish is one of the best in this regard, perhaps a reflection of his flair and flamboyance on the pitch.
“I do not know [why people connect with me]”he said.” I’m not too sure. I think it’s only because of who I’m on the pitch. I’m trying to get the fans out of their seats. I try to attack as much as possible, and I think that’s what the fans want to see. I try to do as much as I can. I know what I’m good at. I try to be as positive as possible all the time, no matter who I’m up against.
“I’ve been doing this all my life haven’t I? I said [this] to my father earlier. He is a plasterer. I don’t know if he’s good or not, but I told him he’s been doing it his whole life and so am I. Just because it’s a bigger game or whatever, I don’t really change what I’m doing. I do it everyday. I train every day. Just because more people are watching or it’s a more important game, I don’t really let that get to me. I just do it like it’s an Under-18 game or a Villa game. “
Grealish has maintained that mindset through comparisons with former England captain David Beckham – droopy hair and the No.7 shirt practically invites them – and Paul Gascoigne, the cheeky rascal who has become the defining image England’s good times at Euro 96. Some players would disappear in the shadow of these greats, but the 25-year-old – with just 10 English caps to his name – kisses him, mainly because he doesn’t. hasn’t lost sight of who he would be if football hadn’t changed. his life.
“I always try to play with a smile on my face because I do what I love,” he explains. “But then again I think if I wasn’t a footballer and I was just with my pals and all that I would just do what they do. I would travel all over watching England, in pubs and all that. I would love that. I think I would be at BoxPark [a chain of indoor entertainment venues with big screens showing matches]. I saw a few videos of it and it looked unreal.
At the end of the day I’m just a normal kid and as I grew up [out] of it, that’s probably one of the hardest things.
“I talk to my family about it all the time and stuff, because when I’m going out and doing stuff, and watching what my friends are doing, I wish I could be like that sometimes, and just go do some stuff. “[If I hadn’t been a footballer], I couldn’t be a plasterer. Club promoter, [in] Tenerife. Or Ibiza. I would bring everyone into the club. “
Grealish is used to being forced to wait for his opportunity in England. After changing allegiance to the Republic of Ireland in 2015, the midfielder’s senior debut only came in September 2020 in a 0-0 draw against Denmark in Copenhagen. The delays were the product of relegation with Villa a year later, problems off the pitch and a late emergence in the match winner he has since become.
The Villa star is pushing to start Saturday’s quarter-final against Ukraine in Rome – especially if Southgate abandons the 3-4-3 form put to good use against Germany – but he recognizes the competition for places in support of Harry Kane in attack.
“It’s difficult: I still play every minute at Villa,” he said. “I have to be realistic about myself and the talent we have here, especially in my position. You have six players playing on either side of Harry who in reality could play for most clubs in the world. Myself, Jadon [Sancho], Marcus [Rashford], Rahim [Sterling], Phil Foden and Bukayo [Saka]. It’s scary how good the six of us are. It’s not having a big head or nothing. It’s just the truth.
“I have to be realistic. I just have to go train the best I can every day and try to impress the manager as much as possible because at the end of the day there is only one person you need. trust.”
There was a feeling he must have won Southgate, that an inherently conservative and extremely professional manager may have doubts about a player like Grealish, a little rough around the edges with a playful streak. So how does Southgate show his love? “Lots of hugs!” Awesome jokes. “No, he’s been perfect with me. I sometimes see things about me and Gareth, but we have a great relationship and he does it with all the players.
“That’s one thing he has. He’s a brilliant man-manager and he has all these attacking players who play week after week at their clubs. The same goes for those who haven’t had the playing time they would have liked. He can’t play against all six of us. He can’t play against everyone. That’s something he’s done very well. “
Grealish played with a bandaged hand after breaking a finger in Villa’s penultimate Premier League game of the season at Tottenham, but the biggest concern ahead of the tournament was the shin injury he suffered suffered in February, which caused him to miss 12 Villa games, England’s March internationals – the last chance to impress Southgate in person before naming his Euros squad – and still needed monitoring over the course of the final weeks of the campaign, including England’s victories in the Euro 2020 warm-up against Austria and Romania.
“They feel good,” he said. “When I had that pain, it was painful, man. When I had the ball at my feet, I kinda forgot about it, but when I went back I was like, ‘Holy shit.’
“I had it in January. We took a break when we had [a] COVID [outbreak] at the club and the youngsters had to play against Liverpool, and I had it then. Because I was in my house I was running on my treadmill and not sure if that helped. I don’t think it is.
“The two games before my injury – Brighton away where we drew 0-0 and the week before when we beat Arsenal 1-0 it was agony. I had a scan and it was painful. I wasn’t supposed to come back as fast as I was, but I felt I had to because everyone in my position was flying for England, so I thought “I have to come back here and show that I’m in good shape and coming back to my normal state. “They feel good now.”
His “normal self” is exactly what English fans have grown to love about Grealish. “Deep down, I’m still the Jack when I was young and I’ll never be that person,” he adds.
This comfort in his own skin is probably the reason he sleeps so well.