|Date: Saturday, 16 April Time: 15:30 BST Venue: Wembley Stadium, London Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC Radio 5 Live, iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app|
Before Manchester City’s FA Cup semi- final with Liverpool, BBC Sport’s Kelly Somers sat down with midfielder Jack Grealish at City’s Academy Stadium to interview him for BBC One’s live match coverage.
She interviewed Grealish in the summer during England’s Euros campaign, when they discussed his close relationship with his sister, who suffers from cerebral palsy, and his love of playing football just for the joy of it – this time they focused on his start to life at Manchester City after his £100m move from Aston Villa last August.
As Jack Grealish enters the room, I explain what we are doing and he nods as he gets his microphone on – because of Manchester City’s busy schedule in the build-up, we are speaking 10 days before their FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool, so before their thrilling draw in the Premier League.
“So we aren’t talking about Liverpool?” he asks as he takes his seat alongside me.
“No, this is all about you. I’ve got some stats on your season,” I reply.
Much like he isn’t fazed by the noise that followed his big money move from Aston Villa, Grealish takes the slightly unique nature of our interview in his stride.
Focusing on the numbers
The 26-year-old has mentioned numerous times this season that he does pay attention to the numbers.
“Obviously as an attacking player, you do want goals and assists. I know for one thing I should definitely have more assists,” he tells me.
“Goals – I think I need to get myself in goal scoring positions a little bit more but I know it’s not all about goals and assists. There are big games we’ve won and I feel like I’ve contributed.”
Does it frustrate him when people only pay attention to the number of goals and assists?
He hesitates and smiles again.
“A little bit but I can see why people say it. But it’s been so much different,” he explains.
“I sat down with the manager and the analyst guys from City, they’ve showed me stats that you want to see as an attacking player that aren’t goals and assists – expected assists, passes in the final third, successful passes in the final third and stuff like this, where I’ve been quite successful in.
“I just need a few to fall my way and then they’ll come.”
|Shot conversion rate||13.2||N/A||8.0||N/A|
|Touches in opp. box||182||7.2||198||8.0|
|Dribble success rate||59.5||N/A||51.1||N/A|
Needing to be more selfish
Among the numbers we put to him are his touches in the box – he’s in the top three in the Premier League at the time we speak – but he’s not bothered by this one.
“I shoot way less than anyone,” he says. “I’m not even sure why, the guys say it here. Like say if I score in training, the lads are like, ‘why don’t you shoot more?’
“I probably should become more selfish. But like I said I don’t really count myself as a selfish player. If someone’s in a better position I’m going to pass it to them.
“I actually love the feeling of having an assist – players coming over and thanking you for their goal. It’s just nice.
“Scoring is the best feeling in football, but I just love assisting.”
Dealing with the pressure
If you’ve heard Grealish speak before, you may have heard him recite the phrase ‘pressure is a privilege’, something he was told by his former Aston Villa coach Steve Burns.
So now, with so much at stake for him and City, does this still ring true?
“I think probably one of the most nervous I’ve ever been was probably in the semi-final when I played against Liverpool for Aston Villa,” he says.
“As soon as I got on to the pitch, I don’t know, I had a good game and I just felt at ease, and I half stood there and just thought to myself, ‘I’ve done this every day for my whole life’.
“Ever since then I’ve never really been affected with pressure. Even when I’ve come here, people have said ‘pressure’, but I swear like I’m not [feeling pressure] when I play.
“The most nervous I’ve ever been, apart from that day, was my first session at City.
“There was no one there, there weren’t like fans or anything, it was just the other players. Like going out to training, if I made a bad pass, they’d be thinking ‘a hundred million? He cant even control the ball!’
“I think even now, sometimes with the price tag and all, this doesn’t actually affect me at all I swear, it’s more or less trying to impress the manager because he’s such a big figure and trying to impress all these players I’m playing with, and wanting them to think I’m a good player.
“This is the business end now and hopefully I can help the team and chip in with goals and assists, because that’s what I’ve come here for.”
In the past year, Grealish has played in a major European final for his country and become the Premier League’s most expensive player.
And with City now embroiled in a title race, in the final four of the Champions League, and this weekend in action in the FA Cup semi-finals, if pressure really is a privilege, then Grealish must feel truly blessed.