Jack Grealish has accused Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness of having a personal agenda against him, insisting: “I don’t know what his problem is with me.”
Grealish has been accused by the former Liverpool midfielder of taking too many touches on the ball and falling short of expectations since his Premier League record £100 million move to Manchester City. Souness, speaking on Talksport, had said: “I understand why people think he is better than what he actually is because he runs with the ball and he gets you on the edge of your seat, but he doesn’t deliver enough”.
The England forward responded: “I don’t know what his problem is with me. He always says stuff about me, but I try not to read a lot of it. It is difficult when he’s on Sky Sports and it’s everywhere around the training ground. Listen, he was obviously a great player and won a lot, but 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.”
Grealish, 27, scored his first goal of the season at the weekend against Wolves after admitting he was unhappy with his performances on his return from injury. His team-mate Kevin De Bruyne spoke about English players being under more scrutiny than foreign counterparts and of Grealish being an easy target for criticism.
“I can see where he [De Bruyne] is coming from a little bit,” said Grealish, ahead of England’s Nations League clash with Italy on Thursday. "But I think that’s just the way it is in this country. Especially if you’re myself, playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, who are winning trophies every single year. And, obviously, when I have the price tag on my head that I have, people are going to want to talk. It’s just something that I need to keep going back to, embracing it, it’s just part and parcel really. But, yeah, I see where he’s coming from a little bit. I’m just like a normal kid, you know. 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.
“After that, I was posting photos 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.”
Grealish won the title in his first year at City, but recently said he wanted an improvement in his form. He admits there has been a change of culture that he has needed to adapt to since his move. Last season, Guardiola publicly warned Grealish and England team-mate Phil Foden over their ill-discipline off the pitch and dropped them from one game.
“It’s completely different to the way it was at Villa. I think at Villa I was more free,” Grealish said. “At City, there’s more structure. I have a great relationship with the manager. I have never seen anything like it in the way he thinks and the way he looks at football. He’s just obsessed with it and you can tell why and see why. I know people might be saying I might be playing a bit different to the way I used to, but I think that comes with the players I am playing with as well.
“I am playing with so many top players, it was obviously going to change my game a bit. I’m never going to be the exact same player that I was, because I am playing for a different club, a different team and a different manager. Hopefully, this is the start of my season and I can just kick on from here.”
Grealish says he is now toughened to the criticism he receives but is not immune to having his performances scrutinised. “Obviously, I’m not going to sit here and say ‘nothing ever affects me’, because it does sometimes. I’m a 27-year-old kid so I’ve had to learn to deal with it,” he said. “I’ve had to learn to deal with it. It’s more if someone like my mum or my dad was saying it, 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. I think we just have to learn to deal with that. Obviously, over time, I’ve learnt to deal with it.
“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.”