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Jack Grealish interview: I lost confidence at start of season – but have no issue with Pep Guardiola

Jack Grealish interview: I lost confidence at start of season – but have no issue with Pep Guardiola

Recent weeks have offered a glimpse of the best of Jack Grealish – Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

He is an open book, Jack Grealish. Sponsors love him because he brings such authenticity to those commercial shoots and, for the community and charitable arms at Aston Villa, Manchester City and England, there is a genuine warmth and sincerity to his interactions with fans and the public alike. What you see with Grealish is what you get. Charming, lovable, charismatic – above all real.

Which is why seeing Grealish inhibited – withdrawn, even – and second guessing himself on the pitch this season after playing such an influential role in City’s march to the Treble last term has jarred. This being Grealish he does not clam up when discussing his struggles, though, and principally what he cites as a loss of confidence. “I just think sometimes if you’re not playing and probably not up to it in training, in your own head you just don’t feel confident,” he said.

Injuries did not help, either. A dead leg put him out for a month early in the campaign. He came back but could not force his way back into the team on a regular basis and his performances suffered even more. Then in January there were more niggling injury problems, this time with his groin. Rinse, cycle, repeat.

“At the start of the season, I don’t know, I just didn’t feel like I was playing well really,” he said. “I didn’t really feel that fit if I’m honest. Coming in the team, playing a game, then being out of the team, in and out, it was a little bit difficult but I feel good now.”

There were certainly signs over two legs of City’s Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid of Grealish rediscovering fitness and form. The tie may not have gone to plan, with City exiting on penalties after dominating long periods of Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium, but Grealish looked confident and strong and he aims to carry that into Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final with Chelsea at Wembley, when Pep Guardiola will hope his side can bounce back quickly.

Grealish looked back to his old self in the two legs against Real Madrid – Getty Images/Naomi Baker

“It’s not even about scoring and assisting. It’s like now, I feel confident even though I’ve not scored,” he said. “Obviously I got an assist last week at the Bernabeu [in the 3-3 draw] but I’ve said before that nowadays everyone loves to talk about goals and assists.

“It’s annoying the way the game has gone because you can have a brilliant game and not get a goal or an assist and they say, ‘Ah, he didn’t do this or that.’ And then you can score two tap-ins at the back post and not play well at all and everyone’s like, ‘Ah, he’s brilliant.’ At the moment, I feel good and I feel confident.”

It is clear the narrative around goals and assists grates with him, though. As England’s first £100 million footballer, there is inevitably going to be an expectation that he delivers big numbers and he would be the first to admit his return of three goals this term is not enough for a player in his position with his price tag.

“For me, it’s all about playing and winning stuff,” he said. “Last season, for example, I played a lot of games but I think I only got five goals and 10 or 11 assists. It’s not loads, but I played such a big part in it. I’ve had times when I was at Villa when I’ve scored eight goals and got 15 assists or whatever – more goals and more assists – but I didn’t win anything. What season do I look back on and think, yeah, that was successful?

“When I’m playing and in a rhythm and I feel important to the team and we’re winning stuff as a team, that’s when it matters and that’s what you look back on.

“I don’t think in one season I ever got more than eight goals so it shows they weren’t buying me to become Erling Haaland and this crazy goalscorer. Obviously I want to score more. Who wouldn’t? But I think City knew how much I offer in different areas. Everyone is just so obsessed with stats nowadays.”

One player posting big numbers is Cole Palmer, who left City for Chelsea last summer in a £42.5 million deal and now sits atop the Premier League goalscoring charts alongside Erling Haaland. Grealish is delighted to see his old team-mate excelling but hopes he has a stinker at Wembley.

Grealish first observed Cole Palmer’s quality in training – Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

“I was one person who always raved about Cole,” Grealish said. “I always said how good he was. I could see it every day in training. I’m very happy for him that he’s gone somewhere and he’s playing because he’s a really good guy.

“I’m happy that he’s gone on and he’s playing well and playing regularly. I think that that was the reason why he left here because he wanted to play. I just hope he doesn’t have the best game on Saturday!”

Grealish’s own playing time has been well below where he wants it and in February there was a call to arms from Guardiola, who told the player that the first person he had to convince he deserved to play was himself, not his manager. Confident again, Grealish wants to repay his manager’s faith.

“I’ve had my own problems, even off the pitch, and he’s always spoken to me and been there for me,” he said. “That’s where that came from, that I feel like I owed him a little bit. Hopefully going forward towards the end of the season in these big games, that’s what I can do. I think sometimes when he says stuff in the press like ‘When Jack trains, the better he’ll play’, I just think a big meal can be made out of it but me and him have a great relationship.”

If one thing is certain at Wembley Grealish is likely to be booed by Chelsea fans, as he is most opposition supporters these days, but the player has no issues with the role of pantomime villain. “Getting booed doesn’t bother me one bit, I like it,” he says.

Trophies are what he really likes, though, and Grealish hopes to take another step towards another one on Saturday.

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