England’s most expensive ever player is beginning to live up to his price tag as Manchester City is getting the Jack Grealish it spent £100 million ($124 million) for after a frustrating first season at the Etihad.
Pep Guardiola’s men are closing in on a potential treble of Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup titles with Grealish at the heart of an upturn in form since the World Cup.
City goes into Wednesday’s potential Premier League decider against Arsenal five points adrift of the league leader, but in control of its destiny thanks to two games in hand.
Despite his price tag in a then record Premier League move from Aston Villa in 2021, Grealish spent most of last season’s title run-in watching from the sidelines as City held off Liverpool by a point to lift a fourth Premier League trophy in five seasons.
Fast-forward 12 months and the England international has followed a pattern of earning Guardiola’s trust after a season to adjust to his methods.
“He’s playing really good this season. But at the same time, like he knows, we want more,” said the ever-demanding Guardiola.
“Now he believes he is part of it. Maybe when he arrived he thought: ‘I’m not good enough after the team won the Premier League.’
“Sometimes players adapt immediately, sometimes they need more time. Jack didn’t come here for just one season, he’s here for a long time. He’s an important player for us.”
On the face of it, Guardiola and Grealish do not appear likely bedfellows.
The Catalan coach is known for his scrupulous attention to detail, while Grealish is one of the game’s few remaining colourful characters.
The 27-year-old made headlines for his antics at City’s title celebrations a year ago before embarking on a booze-filled trip to Ibiza that was splashed all over social media.
More recently, Grealish confessed to ordering a five-course Chinese takeaway after every game.
Guardiola’s confidence repaid
Yet, Guardiola this week hailed his professionalism to ensure he is fit enough to cope with City’s intense schedule.
Grealish has started all of City’s last 12 Premier League games as well as all four of their Champions League matches in the knockout stage so far.
“In the back of my mind the fact that Pep is trusting me in big games helps the confidence,” Grealish said last month on his more prominent role this season.
“I do feel I have repaid him, played my part, done well. And I think that is why he is keeping me in the team.”
Grealish has started to deliver big moments, none more so than the crucial goal that put City back in front when they beat Arsenal 3-1 at the Emirates in February.
He has also scored against Manchester United and Liverpool, but his return of five goals and 10 assists is still not outstanding for a £100 million player.
Guardiola, though, looks beyond the statistics to how Grealish has helped City collectively hit their stride in recent months.
The title race could be looking very different had Grealish not ran nearly the full length of the field to prevent Mohamed Salah giving Liverpool a 2-0 lead at the Etihad last month, at a time when Arsenal were eight points clear.
Instead, City went onto win 4-1 and his work off the ball also helped swing a Champions League quarter-final his side’s way against Bayern Munich.
City was holding on at 1-0 up in the first leg before Grealish’s pressing forced Dayot Upamecano into an error the Germans never recovered from, as Bernardo Silva headed in Erling Haaland’s cross from the turnover.
“Players today play for the statistics, but this is the biggest mistake they can make,” added Guardiola.
“Statistics are just a bit of information we have, but there are players that make the team play well and are not in the statistics. It’s how you play if you perform to your maximum, to help your teammates to make the process defensively and offensively better.”
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