Nerveless Jack Grealish aiming to take big Euro 2020 moment in his stride

On the eve of a summer with the potential to transform his life, Jack Grealish has the air of a man in his element.

A relaxed Jack Grealish celebrates after playing darts in England's training camp on Wednesday.
A relaxed Jack Grealish celebrates after playing darts in England's training camp on Wednesday.

Perhaps it has something to do with the relaxed and homely atmosphere created for England’s players by boss Gareth Southgate and his staff at St George’s Park, the detail of which it emerged on Wednesday even extended to a picture of Grealish’s dog being placed in his room ahead of arrival.

Yet those who follow the 25-year-old’s club career closely at Villa know he is almost always like this. Whatever the challenge and no matter how important the game, he is rarely fazed. He’s always been happiest out on the pitch.

“Why don’t I get nervous? Because I am confident in my ability. With football I just go out and try to play,” explained Grealish, who pointed to failing his driving test aged 19 when asked for an example of when nerves got the better of him.

“I have done it my whole life. I have done it in training. I have done it as a kid and in these games.

“When I step into the pitch playing in a big game I just tell myself: ‘It’s just a game of football’.

“It is what I have done my whole life. I don’t change anything. I just go with the flow and just do what I normally do.”

Glenn Whelan, his former Villa team-mate, once described Grealish and the young band of players who helped the club win promotion in 2019 as “confident, yet never cocky” and the tag still feels appropriate.

Much as he might have been blessed with natural talent and though it might often seem as though come easy to him on the pitch, Grealish’s journey to this point has been underpinned by hard work, something which has only intensified this season following his international breakthrough.

After earning his first senior Three Lions call-up last September, Grealish spent more than an hour talking to Southgate about which areas of his game needed to improve.

Increased discipline running off the ball, particularly when playing centrally, has been a focus ever since. The likes of Harry Kane and Jordan Henderson have increasingly become mentors.

“I am not saying he (Southgate) said to me you need to run and get back more. He didn’t actually say that,” said Grealish.

“We had a chat for a while, which was a good chat. But deep down that (running back) was something I knew I could work on. I have tried to do that as much as I can this season.

“I think I need to do it more and be more disciplined when I play more centrally. That is something I knew I could work on and I went away and tried to do that as much as possible.

“There are always areas to improve. As soon as I finished the game the other night (against Romania) Dean Smith, the gaffer at Villa, messaged me and said: ‘Well done, but you need to run in behind more’.

“I need to mix up my game. You look at the likes of Mason Mount. He is so good with the ball coming to feet but he can also run in behind as well. It is probably something I can improve on and want to improve on.”

Chelsea’s Mount is also among the array of talented attacking players at Southgate’s disposal as he prepares to pick the XI for Sunday’s Euro 2020 curtain-raiser against Croatia.

Grealish, who impressed in warm-up wins over Austria and Romania which also eased any concerns over his fitness following a shin injury, speaks with humility when discussing the challenge of forcing his way ahead of squad mates who last month compete in European finals.

“I don’t really think it is a matter of whether I have done enough,” he said. “You only have to look at the players in my position.

“Most of them have just come back from playing in the Champions League and Europa League finals. Whereas I have been injured for a while. The competition is there but it is good competition to have.

“Our attacking talent is up there with the best in the world. We embrace it. We enjoy playing with each other and training together. It is not really a battle. We are all in this together and aiming for the same thing.”

That aim is to be lifting the Henri Delaney trophy at Wembley on July 11. Grealish yesterday recalled watching as a child when Wayne Rooney made his breakthrough at Euro 2004 and the heartbreak of England’s defeat to Croatia in the 2018 semi-finals.

“It was crazy how football brought the nation together,” he said. “Even my nan, who never watches football, was watching every single game. That is down to the staff here and the players. I was desperate to be part of it.

“This is what I have wanted my whole life. Especially this season I have said in so many interviews this is what I wanted.

“Obviously I wanted to have a good season at Villa but my No.1 main thing was to try and break into this squad. I had my debut at the start of the season and being here now is a dream come true. I am going to cherish every moment.”

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