Jack Grealish admits he hasn’t been at his best since joining Manchester City but insists he handles the pressure well and has a “great relationship” with Pep Guardiola.
The 27-year-old was already in the spotlight before last summer’s £100m move to the Premier League champions from Aston Villa, but the attention on the England international has only intensified since.
Grealish scored his first goal of the season in Saturday’s 3-0 victory at Wolves and despite winning the title during his first year in Manchester, he admits his form needs to improve.
“I think I deal with pressure well, but I do feel like I can start playing a lot better,” Grealish said at an England press conference ahead of a Nations League double-header against Italy and Germany.
“I probably haven’t been playing at the top of my game since I’ve moved to City, but I think I’ve shown glimpses of it and over the next two months especially, I’m just going to try to get my head down as much as I can, work so hard and hopefully good things will happen.”
Since his big-money transfer from Villa Park to the Etihad, Grealish says he has had to adapt to a change of culture but stressed his relationship with City boss Guardiola is a positive one.
“It’s completely different to the way it was at Villa. I think at Villa I was more free,” he said.
“At City, there’s more structure. I have a great relationship with the manager. I’ve said in so many interviews 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 from the way I used to but I think that comes with the players I am playing with as well.
“I was captain at Villa and one of the first names on the teamsheet. When you come to City – and this is no disrespect to Villa – you have players like Kevin [De Bruyne], Phil [Foden], I could go on and on.
“We’ve even got a full-back at the moment in Joao Cancelo who I reckon is one of the best wingers in the world. It’s obviously different and it’s difficult at times.
“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.”
After City’s 3-0 win at Molineux on Saturday, Kevin De Bruyne suggested English players like Grealish are unfairly targeted because of the nation’s mentality of criticising their own.
The Belgium international’s viewpoint was put to Grealish, who smiled and replied: “I’ll ask you, do you?”
When the reporter said he agreed, the City star said with a laugh: “I don’t know – I want to be friends with you all!
“I can obviously see where he’s coming from a little bit. 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 (get on with).
“I keep going back to it, saying embrace it and it’s just part and parcel, really. But, yeah, I do see where he’s coming from a little bit.”
‘England aware of relegation threat’
Grealish seems to take everything – both good and bad – in his stride, which he will continue to do in England’s crunch Nations League matches this month.
The Three Lions will be relegated if they lose Friday’s San Siro clash against Italy before taking on old foes Germany on Monday – the final match of their last camp before the World Cup gets under way in November.
“I think for us, it’s something we’re obviously aware of, but something that we’re all embracing,” Grealish said.
“Especially, I’m not going to speak for the manager, but I’m sure he’s got certain players that are 100 per cent to go to the World Cup, and then there’s obviously certain places and numbers that are still up for grabs. We’re just all training as normal.
“We have two matches now that are going to be very tough opposition and this is really like your pre-World Cup camp.
“We were saying before that before the Euros we had a good few weeks of training sessions, good friendlies, and we’re not going to get that this time.
“But everyone’s in the same boat, so it’s something that we need to embrace and look forward to.”
Grealish believes criticism of England boss Gareth Southgate in the summer was “very harsh” given the success he has enjoyed during his time in charge.
While the nation is still searching for a first senior men’s trophy since 1966, England have never been closer to matching Sir Alf Ramsey’s heroes than the last two major tournaments.
Southgate led England on a run to the World Cup semi-finals four years ago that was as surprising as it was unforgettable, before last summer bringing the country within a penalty shootout of Euro 2020 glory.
But the former defender has never strayed far from criticism and came under fire after a challenging four-game Nations League slog in June ended with a 4-0 Molineux mauling by unfancied Hungary.