Jack Grealish has grown up under Pep Guardiola – and England boss Gareth Southgate likes what he sees.
Manchester City’s £100million man marked his debut season at the Etihad by lifting the Premier League title last week – and his joy was there for all to see. Grealish appeared as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders as he justified the nine-figure price tag by playing his part in the club’s fourth crown in the past five seasons.
The 26-year-old Brummie spoke of his ambition afterwards, saying that “next season I can really pick up”, as he admitted Guardiola’s demands had pushed him onwards. And Three Lions’ chief Southgate said that the Catalan’s approach to Grealish was similar to his own.
He said: “I’ve discussed Jack’s season through the year with him. He spoke really interestingly after the last game of the season and highlighted how he saw it and the issues he found.
“I think that was apparent to everybody, he had to adapt to a totally different way of playing, he had to adapt to different expectations where you have to win every week and a club where there is that competition for places. He’s had to adapt as well to being in a dressing room where there are great players all around you. There is a psychological part to that for anyone.
“But he’s humble. He might be confident enough to take the ball but he’s got humility. And he might not appreciate yet what might be possible. And we were very happy with his mentality and performance in March and we liked the way he went about training that week. What we saw was a player who was hungry and wanted to do well.
“I would imagine there had been some anxiety about going there and not winning a trophy – but he’s done that now, so I’m sure he will feel a little calmer. He would have hated the accusation that he had gone there and not won anything.”
Grealish’s statistics made for indifferent reading. Just three goals and three assists is scant reward for the most expensive English player of all time. But Southgate saw an improvement – and hinted that he is getting aligned to what the country’s head coach now wants.
He added: “Positionally, I think Jack has learned a lot. Without a doubt, tactically, he has improved without the ball during the past 18 months.
“At Villa, he was unique. He was the one who offered hope, got them up the pitch and had total freedom with what he did. It’s a very different ask here. What we’ve asked him to do is more aligned with his club.
“Also, he is a free spirit. As we have seen over the 48 hours following the title win, he wants to enjoy his game, as well. He is what he is. However, if you’d said to me that he wasn’t going to score 20 goals this season, I wouldn’t have expected it.
“He likes to be the provider, the one who might play the ball before the assist. He’s a different type of player. Whether he adds getting in at the far post, like Raheem Sterling has done over a number of seasons… maybe he will maybe he won’t.
“I don’t know if that’s how he’s wired. But he gets as much enjoyment out of the creating as he does the scoring.”