Jack Grealish has earned a reputation for being something of a maverick presence on the pitch and the same is true of his approach to media duties.
His official unveiling as Manchester City’s new £100m signing and the most expensive player in English football’s history on Monday evening brought an inevitable question: on whether that price tag invites pressure.
No player would ever say “yeah, you’re right, I’m terrified”, of course. But most would admit that certain expectations come with such an eye-watering fee and at least hint at the burden that their new employers have inadvertently placed on their shoulders.
Not Jack, though.
“No, it doesn't put no pressure on me whatsoever,” Grealish replied. “I take that as a compliment. I actually like it.”
You can tell he does, too. There is a certain status that comes with being the most expensive footballer in the country and Grealish is more than happy to accept it. Yet to City’s new No 10, being a £100m player does not only mean pressure and status. It also means those above him have absolute belief in his ability.
“When you see a football club paying that sort of money for a player, it means they trust you and value you highly and see potential there to work with,” he explained.
“It means so much to me that the club were willing to spend that much money on me. If anything it just fills me with confidence. I don’t think there’s any pressure on that price tag at all. It just shows how much the club and the manager value me and that only gives me confidence going forward.”
City’s spending may be nearing the £1bn mark under Pep Guardiola but no single deal has come close to this one.
The club’s transfer record has been broken several times over the past few years but only gradually and incrementally – first with Aymeric Laporte for £57m in 2018, then with Riyad Mahrez, Rodri and finally Ruben Dias in a £64m deal last year.
For that slow and steady pattern to be broken is a sign of how certain key figures at City admire Grealish.
Guardiola revealed last week that Txiki Begiristain, City’s director of football, was “completely in love with him”. Guardiola himself has admired Grealish for years, from the very first time that he watched him play.
Grealish reciprocated that at his unveiling, describing Guardiola unambiguously as “the best manager in the world”. Seeing him work up close has only made him even more of a fan.
“I’ve been here now for two days and honestly, the way he is in training is just unbelievable. I can’t actually explain it,” he said, for once struggling to articulate himself. “The stuff he has certain players doing in certain positions, it’s stuff I’d never think of and it works.
“The man management, you've see what he has done with players here, the likes of Raheem [Sterling] and Phil [Foden] especially... I feel like he can take my game to the next level. I'm going to be learning from him every single day, listening to him and I genuinely cannot wait to work with him.”
The player that Guardiola is associated with more than any other is Lionel Messi, and there are a few parallels between the past week of Grealish’s life and that of the best player in the world.
Grealish watched footage of Messi’s farewell press conference at the Camp Nou on Sunday and, watching him tear up on stage, could not help but notice the similarities to his own exit from Aston Villa.
“That is the exact way I felt myself,” he said. “It was obviously difficult because in the back of my head I knew I might be going so I didn’t really train, did a few things on my own… Before I left, I spoke to the team at the hotel and teared up a bit, but I felt it was time for me to move on.
“I have always said I wanted to play Champions League football and I couldn’t do that at Villa this year. I am at a club here that has so much potential and is the most successful English side of the last 10 years. They showed so much faith in me and I felt it was the right time.”
One of the things that Guardiola most admires about Grealish is that he stayed loyal to Villa, especially after their relegation and when he could easily command a move elsewhere.
Grealish’s bond with his boyhood club was always strong but it would be tested on those Tuesday and Wednesday nights when he was sat at home watching players of his ability compete in the Champions League.
“In myself, I believe I can play in these games,” he said. “I don’t believe there is anything better than watching these games. I remember watching City vs PSG last year and the standard in the first half in particular was outrageous.
“I remember speaking to John Terry at Villa and he explained it to me, and said when you stand there on a Tuesday or Wednesday and hear the Champions League anthem, there is nothing better.”
Grealish will get to hear that anthem this season and finally play at the rarefied level which he has long been determined to reach. He will do so as a £100m player, the sixth-most expensive of all time, with the burden of expectation that entails.
And yet you get the impression that actually, he’ll quite like it.
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