Jack Grealish opens up on ‘difficult’ Man City season and reveals Pep Guardiola message

The £100m winger says he is ‘confident’ again and has the backing of his manager as he looks to play a key role in the run-in

Richard Jolly
Senior Football Correspondent
Saturday 20 April 2024 09:49 BST
Man City 'exceptional' against Real Madrid despite crashing out of Champions League, says Guardiola

Jack Grealish does seem the sort to suffer from a crisis of confidence. The Brummie’s bubby persona can endear him, as well as making him the antidote to the some of the blander figures around. He has a relish for life, his enjoyment of playing football apparently only topped by the fun he evidently had celebrating Manchester City’s treble.

But if Grealish’s frankness can form part of his appeal, and made it unsurprising that he readily admitted he had found this season tough, the revelation he had lost belief in himself felt more of a shock. If it has been reflected in some subdued displays, they illustrated the England international’s state of mind.

“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.

A stop-start season saw him lose form, except for a spell in November and December and a recent resurgence. “It’s been difficult,” he added.

“Especially on the back of last year, I had such a good season. I was playing a lot and was one of the main players in the team and playing in all the games and all the important games. This year, at the start of the season I had a dead leg which kept me out for a month and then I didn’t play too often. I don’t think my form was the best and I wasn’t playing with a lot of confidence. In the new year, I had a few injuries again as well with my groin. Recently, obviously I haven’t scored yet, but I feel good, I feel fit and I feel like I’m playing with good confidence.”

That is partly attributable to a manager who smashed the British transfer record to sign him, who redesigned his team to accommodate the £100m man, who, in a way, sold Raheem Sterling to prioritise him. Grealish and Pep Guardiola can seem the odd couple, the alliance of opposites: Jack the lad and Pep the mad professor. The City manager, though, has proved supportive.

“I’ve had my own problems, even off the pitch, and he’s always spoken to me and been there for me,” the winger said. “I think sometimes when he says stuff in the press like ‘when Jack trains, the better he’ll play’ - he said something like that - I just think a big meal can be made out of it but me and him have a great relationship and we get on really well. I’ve said before that he’s the best manager in the world in my opinion. I feel like I owed him a little bit. Going forward towards the end of the season in these big games, hopefully that’s what I can do.”

Guardiola said his confrontation with Grealish was ‘for the cameras’ (Getty Images)

Arguably, he has already started. Two of his finest performances of the campaign came in the four-goal victories over his former club Aston Villa and Crystal Palace. There has been a vibrancy to his recent displays, albeit without an end product for a player without a goal in 2024. “I feel confident even though I’ve not scored,” Grealish said. “I got an assist last week at the Bernabeu but nowadays everyone loves to talk about goals and assists.”

It was a subject he raised himself; he is aware of the wider discussion. And if it can be a simplistic measure when Grealish’s confidence, he says, is not a consequence of goals scored or made, the bare facts are that he has only scored three times in 32 matches this season. Some 100 players have more Premier League goals while Grealish has a lone assist in the competition, putting him level with Wolves goalkeeper Jose Sa and, perhaps more ignominiously, Manchester United winger Antony.

It is not, however, the only measure of a contribution. “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,’” Grealish said. “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.’

Grealish played a key part in City’s treble-winning campaign (Getty Images)

“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’? It’s last season.”

This season could yet bring both the Premier League and the FA Cup; “a double is perfect,” said Grealish, with a treble now ruled out. Yet the immediate impediment comes in the shape of a player who only had a bit-part role at the Etihad Stadium last year and who faces his old club in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final. Since his departure, Cole Palmer has been the anti-Grealish: tied with Erling Haaland in the race for the Golden Boot, with 23 goals and 13 assists in Chelsea’s colours.

“I was one person who always raved about Cole,” said Grealish. “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, a nice lad who I got on well with.” Now Palmer is the byword for goals that Grealish is not. But, after a dip, he has his confidence back.

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