BURTON-UPON TRENT, England -- Jack Grealish arrives at the St. George's Park media center almost an hour late for his assigned duties. But he has good reason.
He says, "I just woken up," as he sips a smoothie from his hand. "I take an afternoon nap every single day. Without it, I wouldn't be the same man. This man, despite only having played once during the team's run towards the Euro 2020 quarterfinals, is something English fans love.
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England fans at Wembley have sang his name -- "Super Jacky Grealish", -- on every single game, even three times when he was just jogging along a touchline to relax, always willing to take up the role of creator in-chief.
Gareth Southgate's team has been very well-organised so far -- not conceding a goal, winning three of the four games and -- but sometimes they lack spark in the last third. This is why Grealish is part of this squad. He's provided that for Aston Villa, to the point where Premier League champions Manchester City are willing to part with 100million so he can also do it at Etihad.
He said that Villa fans have given him so much love, and he went out to repay them on Thursday. It's different when I come here. These fans boo me every week. It was something that brought us all together when I saw the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
"I spoke to my Mum [Karen] & Dad [Kevin] and they thought it was so nice that people aren't going 'f---ing him, if we were at Villa, then we'd boo his every week." All of them are giving me support and doing it for my whole team.
England's relationship has changed with its fans under Southgate's leadership. This is because players are encouraged and supported to be themselves. This is a testament to Grealish's flair and exuberance on the pitch.
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He said, "I don’t know why people connect with me." "I'm not too certain. It's because of how I look on the pitch. I want to get the fans out of their seats. I try to attack as many fans as I can, because that's what they want. I do my best to accomplish as many things as possible. I know what I'm good at. No matter what I'm up against, I try to be positive.
"I've done this all my life, haven’t I?" This was what I told my dad earlier. He is a plasterer. I don't know whether he's any good, but I told him that he has done this all his life. It doesn't matter if it's a more difficult game, but I wouldn't change what I do. It's something I do every day. Every day I train. I don't let the fact that more people are watching, or that it's a larger game affect me. It's like it's an under-18 match, or a Villa game.
Right, Jack Grealish has been the spark England needed for the Euros. He's only started one game, but he isn't fazed. "I try to attack as many as possible, and that's what fans desire to see." Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Grealish maintained this mindset by comparing himself with David Beckham, the former England captain -- the floppy haired and the No. 7 shirt almost invites them -- and Paul Gascoigne who was the cheeky rascal that became the iconic image of England's success at Euro 96. While some players might disappear under the shadow of greats, this 25-year old - who has just 10 England caps to date - embraces it. This is mainly because he doesn't lose sight of who he would have been if not for football.
He says, "I always try to play with a smile in my face because it's what I love." But then again, if I weren't a footballer and was only with my friends and stuff, I'd just be doing what they do. I would be travelling all over England and drinking in pubs. It would be a great experience. I imagine I would be at BoxPark, an indoor entertainment venue that has big screens showing matches. It looked amazing from what I saw.
I am a normal child at the end of each day. That's probably the hardest thing about my life.
"I talk to my family all the time about it, because when I go out to do stuff, I look at what my buddies are doing -- I'd like to be that sometimes and just go do stuff. "[If] I wasn't a footballer, I wouldn't be a plasterer. Club promoter, Tenerife. Or Ibiza. "I would get everyone in the club."
Grealish is used waiting for England's opportunity. The midfielder switched from the Republic of Ireland to play for England in 2015. His senior debut came in September 2020 in a 0-0 draw against Denmark in Copenhagen. These delays were caused by Villa's relegation a year later, off field issues, and his late rise to the match-winner that he has become.
The Villa star is keen to play in Saturday's quarterfinal against Ukraine at Rome. This is especially if Southgate decides to abandon the 3-4-3 formation that was so effective against Germany. However, he recognizes the competition for places to support Harry Kane in attack.
He said, "It's difficult: I'm always on the field at Villa." "I need to be realistic about my abilities and the talent we have, especially in my situation. Six players can play on either side of Harry, and could potentially play for any club in the world. Jadon [Sancho], Marcus[Rashford], Raheem[Sterling], Phil Foden, and Bukayo[Saka] are myself. It's amazing how talented these six people are. This is not being arrogant or stupid. This is the truth.
"I have to be realistic. "I've got to train every day. I have to impress my manager. Because there is only one person that you can trust."
He has felt that he must win over Southgate. Perhaps a conservative, supremely professional manager might have doubts about Grealish, who is a bit rough around the edges and has a mischievous streak. How does Southgate show his affection? "Plenty and lots of cuddles!" Grealish jokes. "Nah. He's been perfect for me. Although I sometimes see some things about Gareth, we have a great relationship. He also has great relationships with all the players.
"That's the one thing he has. He is a brilliant manager and has all these attacking players that play every week at their clubs. The same goes for those who don't get the time they want. He cannot play all six of them. He cannot play all of us. This is one thing that he does really well.
Although Grealish's performance at the Euros has been outstanding for England, he is still optimistic about England's chances of reaching the final. Marvin Ibo Guiengoer/Getty Images
After breaking his finger in Villa's penultimate Premier League match at Tottenham, Grealish was left with a bandaged hand. However, the larger pre-tournament concern was Grealish's shin injury in February that caused him to miss 12 Villa matches and England's March internationals. This is the last chance for Southgate to see Grealish in person before naming his Euros squad. He still required monitoring in the final weeks, which included England's Euro 2020 warm up victories over Austrian and Romania
He said, "They're feeling fine." It was sore when I felt that pain. It was a moment I forgot about, but I would think of it when I was getting the ball back at me.
It was January. It was during January when the club had COVID [outbreak] and the kids had to play against Liverpool. We had a break. My treadmill helped me run because I was at home. It didn't, I don’t believe so.
"It was an agony to be in the two games that preceded my injury, the one away from Brighton where we drew 1-1 and the week before when Arsenal beat us 1-0. It was sore after a scan. Although I was not meant to return as quickly as I did, I felt the need because everyone else in my position was flying to England. So I decided to go back and show that I am fit and healthy. They are happy now.
Grealish's "normal self" is precisely what England fans love about him. He adds, "Deep down I am still the Jack I was when I was young and will never stop being that person."
He sleeps well because he feels so comfortable in his skin.