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It seemed like Jack Grealish could do no wrong this summer.
England may not have won Euro 2020, but it was still quite the summer for the 25-year-old, who found himself loved by all across the nation – no matter who you support.
Grealish only started one match of the Three Lions’ European campaign but has been taken in by England fans, those in football and even those who don’t like the beautiful game that much.
Boys all over the country are copying is Peaky Blinders-style haircut, some even donning an Alice band to make the resemblance that ever more striking. It was like the second coming of David Beckham and his 2002 mohawk.
And it appears he’s become a national heartthrob in the process, with one England fan letting her hopes of being his wife known during the final against Italy.
The signs were there early on in his career when a 17-year-old Grealish with his slicked back mop and surprisingly muscular set of legs impressed for Aston Villa at youth level.
A loan spell at Notts County was huge for his development, former teammates and ex-County boss Shaun Derry admitting that Grealish’s talents played a huge role in helping them stay up.
Grealish played a huge role in Villa’s unexpected route to the FA Cup final in 2015. More excitement was naturally building about this precocious young talent but cracks were beginning to show around that time, too.
Stories about his antics off the pitch, including a picture of him appearing to overdo it on holiday in Tenerife, led to reminders about his responsibilities from his club and fears he’d go off the rails.
The following season was a disaster for Villa as they finished bottom of the Premier League, Grealish breaking an unwanted record that had stood since 2003 of losing all 16 league matches he featured in that campaign.
More stories about his partying hit the tabloid headlines and Grealish even showed ill-discipline on the pitch as a stamp on Wolves’ Conor Coady earned him a three-match ban in October 2016.
Nevertheless, he still contributed well and was unfortunate not to get Villa back in the top flight as they lost in the play-off final in May 2018.
Grealish was winning back the doubters but the perceptions about him really started to change one March afternoon at St Andrew’s in 2019.
During the Midlands Derby, a Birmingham fan ran onto the pitch and punched Grealish from behind. He didn’t react to the disgraceful incident, he let his football ability do the talking and later fired in the winning goal.
To not lose one’s head, to shake off an incident like that and to then give a classy and mature post-match interview showed a side to Grealish some may have felt didn’t exist. After that crazy derby, it was written in the stars that Villa would get promoted to the Premier League two months later.
Villa’s first season back in the big time was a tough one but Grealish was their shining light as he scored ten goals and provided eight assists. Without him they wouldn’t have survived, his goal at West Ham on the final day helped them get the draw they needed to stay up.
Calls for him to play for England were coming from all angles, especially with the player also being eligible for the Republic of Ireland, but they weren’t coming from where it mattered most, manager Gareth Southgate.
The snubs led to suggestions Southgate had something personally against Grealish, who always responded with great maturity whenever asked about the subject – it was Southgate who gave him his break at U21 level, after all.
And lo and behold, the England call-up later came. Grealish particularly dazzled during a Nations League defeat to Belgium last November, which saw him earn comparisons to the legendary Paul Gascoigne. Jose Mourinho says Grealish is like another world class midfielder, however.
“I don’t like making comparisons, especially with a Golden Ball winner, but Grealish reminds me of my [Luis] Figo,” he told talkSPORT.
“Figo, I had him in different periods in my career but I had him in his last season as a player at Inter Milan and even in his last season he was like, ‘give me the ball and I will resolve the problems for you’.
“The way Grealish gets the ball and attacks people, gets fouls, gets penalties, he’s very powerful, I like him very much.”
He’s been heavily linked with a big money move to Manchester City this summer. City have obviously stayed quiet on the matter but it’s clear Grealish is the type of guy Etihad boss Pep Guardiola would have in his squad.
“He’s an exceptional player,” Guardiola said earlier this year. “I didn’t know him before I came here, he was playing in the Championship. Honestly, an exceptional player.
“They have one of the best players in the league in Jack Grealish.”
It’s perhaps the way he plays with that freedom, even an innocence, as to why everyone wants a piece of Grealish.
He’s grown massively as a person but still displayed his man of the people personality when he recently said he’d be a club promoter in Ibiza or Tenerife if he wasn’t a footballer!
Who could say no to our Jack the Lad?