Keep on kicking! England star Jack Grealish knows he will be in for rough treatment from rivals but Aston Villa captain is happy to ride the tackles and help Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions
- Jack Grealish is well accustomed to rough treatment in the Premier League
- The Aston Villa star is the most fouled player in the top flight this season
- Grealish, 25, received heavy tackles during England’s friendly with Austria
- The attacking talent says he will ride the challenges to help Southgate’s side
It was the moment Jack Grealish repeated the word for emphasis that you knew how close he had skirted to the line.
The Aston Villa forward had ended his night in Middlesbrough with a bag of ice strapped tightly to his right shin, an image that caused sharp intakes of breath when it was beamed back into millions of living rooms. That, he stressed, was nothing to worry about and all was fine.
What had caused him anxiety, though, was a moment early in the 1-0 win over Austria when he received the first of what proved to be many overzealous tackles, one that left him wincing. Grealish is a tough, honest customer so it made the detail he provided all the more pertinent.
Jack Grealish has fired a warning to his rivals ahead of the European Championship this month
‘It really, really hurt,’ said Grealish. ‘It was when Jesse (Lingard) gave me the ball on the left. That was one tackle that went on to my shin where I’ve been quite sore. But I think I’ve got this — I don’t know if it’s a quality, I’d like to say it is — of riding challenges.
‘Even though I get fouled and go down, I ride them quite well… I’m going to touch wood there! The way I play, I’m going to get kicked all the time and I can’t really be running with the ball and thinking at the back of my head, “If I get kicked here, I’m one kick away…”’
Grealish didn’t finish the sentence but everyone knew what he meant — one kick away from being out of the tournament. The history of build-ups to major tournaments is littered with last-minute fitness calamities and every player knows the hand that fate can deal.
The England star, 25, was on the receiving end of rough treatment against Austria
‘Trent (Alexander-Arnold) did his just by kicking the ball away,’ said Grealish, referring to the issue that took Liverpool’s right back out of action for the next four to six weeks. ‘So it’s one of those (things). If it ever happens it is part and parcel. It is what comes with the way I play.’
At a time when many would expect players to be thinking about self-preservation, Grealish’s wonderfully confident outlook will not be changed. Nobody in the Premier League gets kicked more or wins more fouls, but the rough treatment has never been off-putting.
Should he start any of England’s group games — and there must be a significant chance of that after the liberating way he performed against Austria — Grealish knows opponents will chop away at him. But that will not lead to him being booted on to the sidelines.
‘Martin O’Neill said to me when I was younger, “You never, ever want to get kicked in your own half because there’s no point” — you can’t do anything there,’ Grealish explained. ‘You should try and get kicked around the edge of the box or in the box as much as possible.
Grealish says he is accustomed to heavy challenges and is happy to take them on for the team
Grealish has impressed since making his debut with calls for the Villa star to start on June 13
‘I was a bit young and I thought, “Ah, OK”. But now, obviously, I understand why. I’ll take the kicks to help my team, definitely. We are blessed with unbelievable free-kick takers here. Trent, Tripps (Kieran Trippier), H (Harry Kane). As long as I can keep getting as many fouls around the box…’
It is impossible not to warm to this 25-year-old. There was a point not so long ago when it seemed he would struggle to win Gareth Southgate’s confidence but here he is, on the cusp of the main event, with many judges adamant he should start against Croatia.
Perhaps it is significant that Southgate felt compelled to hand him the No 7 jersey. The squad number is synonymous with big, bold talents, the most famous, arguably, being one of Grealish’s boyhood heroes.
‘What young lad didn’t look up to David Beckham?’ Grealish asked. ‘If I have half the career he had, then I’ll be over the moon. I always looked up to him when I was younger, through the main things that stick out throughout his career.
The 25-year-old has been handed the No 7 shirt and is looking to make history this summer
‘He had a lot of great moments but the goal against Greece (which sent England to the 2002 World Cup)… every kid grew up looking up to him. I certainly did. No 7 was a bit of an iconic number in England terms. So many great players have worn it and hopefully I can follow in their footsteps.’
You wouldn’t bet against it. This is not about comparing Grealish to Beckham or Paul Gascoigne or anyone else — it is unfair and unnecessary — but he knows there is an opportunity to create history. Without question he is ready.
‘The whole nation came together in 2018,’ said Grealish, who watched the last World Cup on holiday in Ibiza. ‘I actually said to someone after the Austria game how it feels nice to be playing in a stadium with England fans who support different clubs but they’re there supporting you.
‘It was the first time I’d ever done it. Most of the lads here had played with fans before, but for me it was my first time and I absolutely loved it. It gave me goosebumps when I was singing the national anthem and listening to the crowd as well. Hopefully we can all have a good summer.’
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