Dismissing repeated criticism of his playing style from Graeme Souness, Jack Grealish revealed that Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has urged to him to show the “balls” to adapt to a different approach.
The 27-year-old frontman moved from Aston Villa to City last summer in a £100 million transfer and although Guardiola’s side won a fourth Premier League title in five years, Grealish was on occasions peripheral, starting only 22 games and scoring three goals.
Former Liverpool midfielder-turned pundit Souness was not exactly complimentary this week inhis assessment of Grealish as “a good footballer, not a great player”, claiming also he was fouled so often at Aston Villa because he dallying with the ball too long in possession and was “not seeing the picture quick enough.”
Souness’ comment is the latest in a series of withering assessments on Grealish, who chose a press conference at St George’s Park following his call-up to the latest England squad for UEFA Nations League matches against Italy and Germany as an opportune moment to respond.
“I don’t know what his problem is with me,” said Grealish. “He always says stuff about me. But I try not to read a lot of it. It is difficult you know when he’s on Sky Sports and it’s everywhere around the training ground at times.
“Listen, he was obviously a great player and won a lot but I know he has a lot of stuff to … I don’t know what it is with what he says about me or what problem he’s got. I know my own ability.
“I know before that he used to say a lot of stuff about me not moving the ball quicker but when I’m playing for a manager like Pep Guardiola and he’s telling me to keep the ball as much as I can and have balls to take it everywhere, that’s what I’ll try and do.
“Obviously I am always going to have people, if I’m not playing well … listen I know within myself, I always watch my games back and stuff like this and I am very critical of myself.
“I know that there were games, especially in the second half of last season, where I wasn’t at my best at all.”
Although a starter in City’s opening game of the season at West Ham, Grealish picked up an ankle problem and ended up being in second-half substitute role against Bournemouth and was subsequently sidelined for three weeks.
“Unfortunately for me, I came back in pre-season, I came back fit where I’d had a strong pre-season and then got injured in the second game.
“But from now on, I’m just going to try and get my head down and try and get that fitness back because I know I’m not at 100% yet. I think I’ve only played one 90 minutes this season. But yeah, I think I’ll always have people on the back of me but I’ve just got to try and go and perform.”
Unfortunately, carrying the tag of being Britain’s most expensive football attracted further scrutiny for Grealish over the summer after being pictured on holiday in Ibiza and Las Vegas.
“I’m just like a normal kid,” he said. “I feel like I was just doing what a lot of other footballers are doing, but just sometimes I get more attention when I’m on holiday in Ibiza or Vegas or something.
“After that then I was putting up photos [on social media] of me working. I don’t know if a lot of people spoke about that. I tried to come back as fit as possible and I felt like I did. I’ve seen the manager said that a few times about me.
“I know what I’m like and how professional I actually am and hopefully I can just get my performances back to where I was when I’m playing at my best.
“I’ve had to learn to deal with it. It’s more if someone was saying it like my Mum or my Dad or someone, I’d listen a lot more.
“But yeah, sometimes when people are saying it whether it is trolls on Twitter or Instagram or stuff like that, that doesn’t bother me at all. That’s just part and parcel of what we have playing for the national team and playing for big clubs in England. I don’t think I’m the only one, I think there’s quite a few.
“When I signed for Man City and the price that came with it, I knew it wasn’t going to all be laughs unless I started the way Erling Haaland did. That’s the only way I wouldn’t get caned.”