Jack Grealish says Pep Guardiola wants him to ‘have balls’ in possession as the Manchester City attacking midfielder has mocked Graeme Souness’ latest criticism of him and his style.
It’s been just over a year since the local Aston Villa star made an eye-catching £100m move to the Etihad Stadium.
Grealish says the heightened pressure and scrutiny is “an integral part” of representing City and England, with that mentality perhaps explaining why he was able to take Souness’s latest jibes in his stride.
The former Scotland star said this week the 27-year-old was “not a great player” and should have improved more since joining City, where he believed he would think faster and would move the ball faster.
“I don’t know what his problem is with me,” Grealish said with a laugh. “He always says things about me! But I try not to read a lot.
“It’s tough, you know, when he’s on talkSPORT, or Sky Sports, and it’s all over the training ground sometimes.
“Listen he was obviously a great player and he won a lot but I know he has a lot to do… I don’t know what it is about what he says about me or what problem he a. I know my own capacity.
“I know before he used to say a lot about me not moving the ball faster, but when I play for a manager like Pep Guardiola and he tells me to keep the ball as much as possible and have balls to take everywhere, that’s what I’m going to try to do.
“Obviously I’m always going to have people, if I don’t play well (critical). Look, I know in myself, I always watch my games and stuff like that and I’m very critical of myself.
“I know there were games, especially in the second half of last season, where I was not at my best level at all.
“Unfortunately for me, I came back in pre-season, got back in shape where I had a good pre-season, then I got injured in the second game.
“But from now on, I’m just going to try to put my head down and try to get back to that physical shape because I know I’m not 100 per cent yet. I think I only played one 90 minutes this season.
“But, yes, I think I will always have people behind me, but I just have to try to go and play.”
Grealish seems to be taking it all in his stride, admitting the exam “probably affects my family more than me” having learned to deal with it over the years.
“It’s more if someone like my mum or dad would say it, I’d listen to a lot more,” he said ahead of England’s Nations League clash in Italy on Friday.
“But, yeah, sometimes when people say that — whether it’s trolls on Twitter or Instagram or stuff like that — I don’t mind at all.
“I think it’s part and parcel of what we have to play for the national team and to play for big clubs in England.
“I don’t think I’m the only one, I think there are several. I think we just have to learn to deal with that.
“Obviously, over time, I learned to live with it.
“When I signed for Man City and the price and the stuff that came with it, I knew it wasn’t all going to be laughs unless I started like Erling Haaland. I think it’s the only way not to be caned!
“Obviously I’m not going to sit here and say ‘nothing ever affects me’ because sometimes it does. I’m a 27-year-old kid so I’ve had to learn to deal with that.
Grealish was in the spotlight long before he became a star player due to off-field behavior earlier in his career.
The attacking midfielder’s professionalism was again called into question over the summer following his celebrations during City’s title parade and subsequent holiday.
Grealish thinks the criticism is unfair but knows he has work to do to reach his best for City and England.
“I’m just like a normal kid, you know?” he said. “I feel like I’m doing what a lot of other footballers do, but sometimes I think I get more attention when I’m on vacation in Ibiza or Vegas or something.
“After that, I put pictures of me working. I don’t know if many people have talked about it.
“I tried to come back as fit as possible and I felt like I did. I saw the manager say that about me many times.
“I know how I am and how professional I am and hopefully I can just bring my performances back to where I was, when I’m playing at my best.
“I know how good I am when I’m at my best, so hopefully I can get that back and get back to my fitness as soon as possible.”