Jack Grealish is holding court and has his audience eating from the palm of his hand. Like a seasoned storyteller, he has you in fits of laughter one moment and pangs of sadness the next.
‘I think sometimes footballers get told what to say in interviews,’ says Grealish. ‘But why would I sit here and say to you, “I go home, I sit in my room”, when I don’t do that?’.
Sitting at England’s Al Wakrah training complex on the outskirts of Doha, the Manchester City star stays true to his word.
Jack Grealish has opened up on a number of matters both on and off the football pitch
The winger will be hoping to get a chance to shine in England’s round of 16 tie with Senegal
Refreshingly forthright and captivatingly charming, Grealish confronts every question with searing honesty, producing 29 minutes of box-office entertainment from one of the Premier League’s most talented players.
The 27-year-old speaks openly about his Coronation Street-mad sister Hollie, who suffers from cerebral palsy, and the difficulties she has seeing her brother play because she is visually impaired.
He is candid about the regrets he harbours over insulting Newcastle forward Miguel Almiron and his attempts to repair the damage through former Aston Villa colleague Matt Targett.
Grealish is particularly animated when discussing the modern day obsession with statistics and why the numbers can paint a false picture of a player.
The winger has failed to start a game at the World Cup but notched in their opener with Iran
The England forward poses with his younger sister Hollie who suffers from cerebral palsy
Then last, but by no means least, there is his father Kevin’s World Cup Union Jack inspired attire.
‘He had a little bow-tie as well but my mum told him to take it off — I don’t know where he’s got it from, it looks like something from the market, doesn’t it?’
But let’s begin with Almiron. During City’s title celebrations last summer, Grealish — slightly the worse for wear — was standing next to team-mate Bernardo Silva when a camera phone panned in his direction.
Silva asked Grealish what triggered their final day comeback against Aston Villa that clinched the title. His answer was jovial, but Almiron would not have seen the funny side.
‘There were two secrets — one, Riyad (Mahrez), take him off the pitch, as soon as possible. He played like Almiron,’ said Grealish at the time.
A clip of Grealish – poking fun at Newcastle star Miguel Almiron – went viral last season
The footage went viral. Perhaps Grealish’s drunken remarks were the catalyst for Almiron’s excellent form this season. But that is neither here nor there for Grealish, who has confessed to embarrassment at the whole affair.
‘I haven’t actually been asked about that and let me just address it,’ he started.
‘I do some f*****g stupid stuff sometimes that I do regret. It was the day after the season finished and obviously I’d had a few drinks. Then I remember I was in Ibiza and it (the video) had obviously come out.
‘That was one thing I regret. I do stupid stuff and that was one.
Newcastle’s winger has gone on to have unrivalled success since Grealish’s comments
‘I swear, I’m actually buzzing at the way he’s reacted. He said something about me in an interview the other day, he wished me the best.
‘I thought, “What a guy” because if somebody had said that about me, I’d have probably been the other way.
‘I messaged Matt Targett because I’m close with him from Villa and I said to him, “Can you message him for me and say to him that I apologise”.
‘I thought the video was private. But even in private I shouldn’t have said it because he’s a fellow professional.’
Grealish has featured in all three of England’s games at the World Cup, albeit from the bench.
The winger admitted he’s been loving life in Qatar as part of England’s World Cup squad
‘All the lads say to me if we’re drawing at half-time, “Make sure you’re ready” and it makes you feel like they want you, it makes me feel good,’ he said.
‘I’m not sitting here saying I don’t want to start. But I do appreciate the other talents that we have in the squad.
‘I think it’s a difficult one for the manager because no matter what he does he’s never going to win.
‘He’s proved himself as a brilliant manager. I think sometimes the subs have as much of a part to play as the starters, because they come on and change games.’
Grealish’s strike in the 6-2 win over Iran last week was special for a whole number of reasons. Firstly, because scoring in a World Cup is one of the best experiences for any footballer.
Grealish was full of praise for boss Gareth Southgate and called him a ‘brilliant manager’
The fact that his family were in attendance made the moment even more poignant, although Hollie’s difficulties with her sight meant she is unlikely to have seen the goal.
Then there is his celebration, which was dedicated to 12-year-old Manchester City fan Finlay, who met Grealish before the tournament and also suffers with cerebral palsy.
‘The celebration was natural, I don’t do that for any clout,’ said Grealish.
‘I do that because that’s what I feel I’m good at sometimes. I can relate to it.
‘It’s nice for him because he’ll go back to school and he’ll probably be quite popular.
Grealish met with 12-year-old Manchester City fan Finlay prior to the World Cup commencing
He then dedicated his goal against Iran to Finlay by performing a celebration they discussed
‘That’s just the way I’ve been brought up. I’ve got a good heart, or I think I have.
‘With my little sister, she’s been to the games but she’s never been able to see me or anything because she’s visually impaired.
‘Obviously it’s nice to go and spend time with them after the games because she gets it but she obviously can’t watch the game.
‘So she just sits on her iPad, she’s addicted to Coronation Street, so she watches Coronation Street from 1998!’
Grealish is just as engaging when it comes to the football, too.
It is incredible to think that given his unquestionable talent, he has made just one assist in 2022 — although he has scored five times, including his goal in the thrashing of Iran.
The winger has not had the same level of output since moving from Aston Villa to Man City
When the stat is raised Grealish becomes even more animated, even getting up off his chair to make his point.
He explained: ‘It is crazy when you say that because when you look back to when I was at Villa, I got three assists in one game versus Liverpool.
‘I remember thinking I would get so many goals and assists before I joined City but I didn’t think about the other side of it — when you do get there it is so much more difficult.
‘It was different at Villa because Dean Smith used to say to me, “Go wherever you think is the weak link”.
‘But when you come to City it is much more structured, so even a year later I’m still getting used to it. Nowadays, goals and assists, it’s all people go on about.
Grealish revealed he was told to expose the ‘weak links’ in opposition sides when at Aston Villa
‘I was winding Bernardo Silva up not too long ago because he got two assists in a row by passing the ball to Joao Cancelo who cut in and put it top bins. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be an assist, it should be an assist, but people just go on so much.
‘I’m not saying assists don’t matter because they do. But I do think it’s the thing people go on about so much more than they actually should.
‘One of the best players I’ve played with — and he’s changed the way I see football — is Bernardo Silva. Out of everyone I’ve played with he is probably the best. He doesn’t get a lot of goals and assists.
‘The way his brain works is crazy, he will go and get the ball off the keeper and dribble from the six-yard box.
The 27-year-old claims City team-mate Bernardo Silva (R) has had a big influence on his game
‘I remember one game last season, Ederson puts the ball down and gives it to Bernardo who goes off on a little dribble.
‘I was like, “What the f*** does he think he is doing, he thinks it’s school football?”.
‘Pep Guardiola says he wants us to show balls, wanting the ball under pressure when the opposition crowd are against you.
‘That is Bernardo in a nut-shell. That’s what I think I do a little bit.’