Jack Grealish walks around, a little disheveled, as if he had just woken up, which he confirms. It’s 4.30pm at St George’s Park, the England midfielder is late for his media interview – in fact, he’s really late – and with deadlines being deadlines his audience is moving uncomfortably. “Yeah, everyday I take my afternoon nap… I’m not the same man without it,” Grealish said with a wink.
Everyone relaxes quite quickly because how can we not? The Aston Villa captain has that effect on people, attracting them, all confidence and easy jokes and, over the next half hour, he tries to make sense of what is happening to him; more specifically, how he became the poster child for England’s shot at Euro 2020 glory, which continues on Saturday with the quarter-final against Ukraine in Rome.
The 25-year-old didn’t make his debut until last September, but he’s the player fans call when he’s on the bench and he’s the one who turns them on the most when he’s on the bench. ground.
Grealish’s appeal lies in his mercurial talent, the softness of his touch, his explosive shards, but he’s also rooted in how he presents himself like any other boy in the country. He’s got flaws, he’s made some high-profile mistakes but he has the common touch and there are times he feels like he’s living everyone’s dream.
“I love it,” Grealish said. “It makes me so happy and proud when I hear the crowd chanting my name. It might be too much pressure for some people, but I just want to pay it off. I always try to play with a smile because I do what I love.
“It’s good when Villa fans call you, but you kind of expect it because you’re one of them. When it comes to English fans, it’s different. I get booed every week by these fans. When I talk to my mom and dad, they think it’s so sweet that people don’t go: “Ah, if he was in Villa, we would boo him every week. ” They are give me that support and do it for the whole team.
Grealish has only started once at Euro – against the Czech Republic, when he scored Raheem Sterling’s only goal – but he helped make a difference when he came on in the last 16 victory over Germany, playing a part in Sterling’s victory. Harry Kane’s first goal and second cross. Grealish couldn’t sleep afterward and he ended up watching a rerun of what had already become a classic in the early morning hours in his room in St George’s Park, when he couldn’t fail to be stricken with insanity. goal celebrations.
“If I wasn’t a footballer and I was just with my pals, I would just do what they do,” says Grealish. “I would travel all over watching England, in pubs and all that. I think I would be at BoxPark. I saw a few videos of it and it looked unreal.
“I’m just a normal child and growing up [in football], this is probably one of the hardest things. I talk to my family about it all the time because when I’m going out and doing stuff and watching what my friends are doing… I would love to be like that sometimes and go do stuff.
“Of course I made mistakes. When I first entered the scene nobody knew me and I could do whatever I wanted and then play in the semi-finals and the FA Cup final for Villa [as a 19-year-old in 2015] … Everyone knew who I was. It was difficult to deal with but I have matured so much. Deep down, I’m still the same Jack. I will never be that person.
Grealish is asked what he would have done if he hadn’t been a footballer. Become a plasterer like his father, Kevin? “I couldn’t be a plasterer,” he said. “I would be a club promoter. Tenerife or Ibiza. I would bring everyone into the club.
Grealish talks about the unity Gareth Southgate has fostered in the England squad; how club rivalries are left at the door. “I didn’t think I would ever squeeze a former Blues player in Jude [Bellingham] Says Grealish. Likewise, what do Birmingham fans think of their sudden support for Grealish?
It has not been easy for Southgate to manage their array of attacking stars – all of whom play regularly at their clubs but cannot share the same pitch for England. How does the manager show love to Grealish?
“Lots of hugs,” Grealish says. “No, he was perfect with me. I see things about myself and Gareth sometimes, but we have a great relationship. He does it with all the players. He is a brilliant man-manager.
“You have six players playing on either side of Harry [Kane] who, in reality, could play for most clubs in the world. I, Jadon [Sancho], Marcus [Rashford], Raheem, 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.
“He can’t play the six of us, but one thing he’s done really well is make people think they’re still involved. He still talks to everyone on a daily basis.
Grealish is desperate to start against Ukraine but, whether it’s 90 minutes or the cameo of a replacement, he will do what he always does – live the moment to the fullest and be himself.
“My dad is a plasterer,” says Grealish. “I don’t know if he’s good or not but I told him he’s been doing it his whole life and it’s the same for me. I have been a footballer my whole life. If it’s a bigger game or more people are watching… I’m not really changing what I’m doing. I just do it like it’s an Under-18 game or a game against Villa.