Jack Grealish, in a move that some might find unsurprising, motions to grab his testicles. It isn’t what you think, of course.
The England playmaker is offering another insightful answer about entertainment and where it crosses over with intent.
“Pep says he wants us to show balls,” Grealish says of his Manchester City manager, Guardiola, before making exactly that motion. “That’s wanting the ball under pressure when the opposition crowd are against you at Anfield; when everyone is whistling and you’re saying give me the ball.”
Grealish graciously talks about a potential World Cup rival as being a master at that in a Manchester City, before more humbling mentioning himself.
“That is Bernardo [Silva] in a nutshell,” the 27-year-old said. “That’s what I think I do a little bit.”
So do his teammates, but they don’t think it’s a little bit. When England were drawing 0-0 with Wales on Tuesday, a lot of his teammates were going up to him saying “make sure you’re ready”.
“It makes you feel like they want you. It makes me feel good.”
In truth, Grealish carries the air of a man who rarely feels too bad. “I like to go out and enjoy myself,” as he puts it. That more than comes across in the way he sits back in an interview at the squad camp with the English press while offering so many little lines, anecdotes and stories, before suddenly jumping up to illustrate a moment where Bernardo took the ball off Ederson to do a dribble around.
“I was like, what the f**k does this c**t think he is doing? He thinks it’s school football!”
The enthusiastic manner in which Grealish talks about this, and laughs, also shows it’s not all about feeling good or entertainment.
“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.
“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 just enjoy it all.”
He’s an entertainer, in so many ways, who also seeks to make some serious difference. That doesn’t just apply to intent on the pitch.
One of the more heartwarming stories of an immensely controversial World Cup has been Grealish’s celebration after scoring against Iran, which was a dance he agreed with Finlay Fischer, a 12-year-old supporter – and now friend of the player – who has cerebral palsy. The City forward’s younger sister, Hollie, has the same condition.
“That’s natural, I don’t do that for any clout or whatever. I do that because that’s what I feel I’m good at sometimes, because I can relate to it, with my little sister. It was a nice thing for him as well. He’ll go back to school and he’ll probably be quite popular. 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, I think I have. Obviously I’ve done stupid stuff in my life but I think everything that I do good is from my heart.”
It could be a phrase to sum him up. There is an undeniable warmth about Grealish.
That comes across when he quickly wants to talk about something he very much considers part of the “stupid stuff”. That was the “disrespect” to Miguel Almiron during City’s title celebrations, when a video came out of Grealish joking about Bernardo’s performances and how he was more like the Newcastle playmaker.
It could almost be perceived that it served as motivation for the Paraguayan, given the levels he’s gone to this season. It has meant Grealish is generally liked in all but one part of the country – but he wants to make amends.
“Do you know what, I haven’t actually been asked about that and let me just address it. It was the day after the season finished and obviously I’d had a few drinks and stuff. Straight after that, because I didn’t realise, we were out celebrating and I wasn’t on my phone on social media. I remember I was in Ibiza and it had obviously come out. That was one thing I regret.
“When I said earlier that sometimes I do stupid stuff, that was one. I regret that. I swear, I’m actually buzzing the way he’s reacted. 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 ‘fuck it’.
“I messaged Matt Targett because I’m close with him from Villa and I said to him ‘can you message him for me and say to him that I apologise, I obviously didn’t mean it’. When I look back on that, that was just one thing that was stupid of me to say it. I shouldn’t have said it. I didn’t realise it was going to go out. I didn’t realise it was a video to go out, I thought it was just private. But even in private I shouldn’t have said it because he’s a fellow professional. I’m actually buzzing for him, I’ve had a lot of stick off the Newcastle fans and rightly so. At the end of the day, they are backing their player which I fully understand. He seems like the most harmless, nice guy, so fair play, I’m buzzing for him.”
Targett merely responded ‘Jack, he’s a lovely kid and he’s harmless and doesn’t really speak a lot of English. He won’t really be bothered.’
Grealish is asked whether he’s now stuck Almiron in his fantasy football team.
“Nah, I don’t play that. I’m not a big fan of it. Everyone loves it, I get about 100 messages every week saying ‘is [Erling] Haaland starting?’ It’s not really me. I love my football, but I can’t be arsed with it!”
It’s not like Grealish wants for other interests. It’s actually harder to keep him still.
“I have other stuff I enjoy doing as well. I’m an outgoing person and I don’t think I should just sit there and shy away from it.
“Why would I sit here and say to you, ‘I go home, I sit in my room’, when I don’t do that? So why am I going to say it? I like to go out and enjoy myself but I love to have a ball at my feet.”
That can be seen in the England dressing room, where he and Phil Foden are constantly bouncing the ball around.
“Luke Shaw said to me, ‘when I come away with England, you can tell who the City lads are.’ I said ‘what do you mean?’ He said, ‘you always have a ball, you always want a ball’. It’s true. Me, even Kyle [Walker], Phil, we’re just always wanting a ball, whether it be back home, at the camp, or here. Lads will just be doing stretches and that, getting ready for training or playing basketball, and me and Phil will just be playing two-touch. We get that from being at City.
“I’ve never been in a changing room in my life like that. At Villa, you’d be sitting there on their phones, then at City you’re sitting there and balls are going flying across the changing room. People playing two-touch. I think it’s the culture at City, where everyone just loves to have a football and we bring that here. Me and Phil have always got a ball at our feet and we have a good connection, we’re close friends.
“I actually get on with everyone, honestly, at England. Even when people at home say ‘who do you hang around with?’ I just mingle. I go from table to table, I get on with everyone. I enjoy it so much here.
“If I’m honest, I can sit there but I’d prefer to be out and just doing stuff, rather than sitting in my room. I have my Playstation in my room but I don’t think I’ve touched it yet. I prefer to just be out, watching the games. It’s been helpful we’ve had a game on at 10pm til 12pm. Just sitting in the massage room watching that then go to my room when it’s time to get my head down.”
Such discussion does raise the question over whether Grealish feels he’s gone to another level at City; whether he finds it hard from just going out and playing to going out and producing under pressure. It’s pointed out to him that his assists return has actually dropped, and he’s directly asked whether he considers himself an “elite player”.
“Yes, of course,” he instantly says.
“Technically, I’m better. It is so much more difficult than I thought. It was different at Villa because Dean Smith used to say to me ‘go wherever you think is the weak link’. ‘If you think you can destroy the left-back stay there.’ ‘If you think you can come into the middle of the pitch stay there, or you can go on the right – just go wherever you think, play off the cuff’ because that is what I think the type of player I am.
“But when you come to City it is much more structured that even a year later I’m still getting used to. It’s crazy to think I’ve only got one assist when people are getting two assists in one game. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter at all – because it does. But I do think, nowadays, it’s the thing people go on about so much more than they actually should. One of the best players I’ve played with – and he’s changed the way I see football – is Bernardo Silva.
“I was winding Bernardo 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.
“There’s obviously a lot of pressure and, since I’ve gone to City, I’ve felt it more than ever. At Villa, there wasn’t really a lot of expectation but as soon as you go to a club that are challenging for stuff – and for the price tag I went for – there’s so much expectation. I could have three bad games at Villa and I don’t think anyone would say a word. Now, at City, you’re on BT and Sky every week, you have one bad 60 minutes and everyone’s saying ‘he’s this, he’s that, he’s not playing well’.
“There’s not much expectation but I did know it was going to come with that. I’m just trying to enjoy it as much as I can.”
It evidently benefits England, too, all the more so because Grealish has to occasionally make do with much less than 60 minutes to make his impact.
“When I come here, I love it, honestly. I love the group of lads. I love the staff. I love the bond that we have. I really enjoy myself when I’m here. Obviously I’d love to play but at the end of the day I’ve played in all three games at the moment. Sometimes I’m one of the first subs to come on.
“I’m not saying I love being on the bench and coming on by the way, obviously I’d love to start, but I do appreciate that there are other players in my position: Saks [Bukayo Saka], Phil… other players who are world-class. It’s hard, you know, trying to start but as long as I’m playing my part and enjoying myself, I’ll carry on.
“I think, talking of assists actually, I think I’ve got quite a few now for England – so put that in your article,” he laughs. Grealish can’t help himself. He lets go again about his father’s Union Jack suit, after being asked about the recent family meet-ups.
“What’s he doing with that, I said ‘what you wearing there?’ He had a little bowtie as well but my mum told him to take it off.
“I don’t know where he got it from, it looks like something from the market, doesn’t it? I don’t know where he’s got it from, and he keeps wearing it as well.
“I think he thinks it’s his lucky charm but it’s nice, because we don’t see them much, but whilst we’re here, I think some of the countries are with their families, staying with them, we’re not, which is good… not good, obviously we want to see them, but I think it’s good to have the team together and it’s nice we can go and see them after the games, to spend some time with them, especially when it’s a good result.
“It’s nice vibes and obviously 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, because she’s obviously visually impaired, but obviously it’s just nice to go and spend time with them after because she gets it but she obviously can’t watch the game and stuff so she just sits there on her iPad. She’s addicted to Coronation Street, so she watches Coronation Street from 1998, Kirk on there is about 10 years old, he’s about 40 now, isn’t he? So she just watches Coronation Street all the time on her ipad.”
There we are, just two days out from a crunch last 16 World Cup match with Senegal and potentially two weeks from a World Cup final, and Grealish is talking about Coronation Street from the mid-90s.
It sums him. Occasionally “stupid stuff” – but from a good place. And, increasingly, that love of entertainment being used with real intent.