We’re talking about the most famous calves in English football, those oversized specimens that emerge from a pair of rolled up socks.
A retro look for a very 21st century footballer, the Manchester City and England forward with an Alice band in his hair, the No 10 on his shirt and that £100million price tag on his shoulders.
Jack Greish will come back later on his transfer and the challenges that come with it, but above all: these calves. “Actually, I don’t do anything,” he says. “It’s just something that runs in the family. My grandfather always had big calves when he played football.
Jack Grealish enjoys his first taste of the Champions League with Manchester City
“But I don’t do calf exercises or routines in the gym or anything. Honestly, it’s just something I’ve had since I was young.
And the socks, reminiscent of a 1970s maverick almost as much as his dribbling skills and broad smile?
“I think I was around 14 or 15 and we were sponsored by Macron at Aston Villa, and the socks were shrinking in the wash. In training, obviously, I couldn’t get them on my calves because the socks were so small. So I started wearing them under my calves in training – and that season I ended up playing really well.
“So I started wearing my socks under my calves in games as well. It was just something that stuck because I had such a good season.
Footballers can be superstitious creatures, finding confidence in small habits amid the pressures of professional sport. Something, you’d expect, Grealish will have enjoyed more than ever this season, following the upheaval of leaving his boyhood club Aston Villa for champions Pep Guardiola and becoming the most expensive English footballer of all time. .
City broke UK transfer record by securing Grealish from Aston Villa for £100m
It was a big decision for Grealish to leave his boyhood club to play for Guardiola and City
There were tears when he said goodbye to Villa and the 26-year-old’s thoughts hint at a mix of emotions.
“It was a massive decision,” said Grealish, a boyhood season ticket holder who grew up in Villa’s academy and spent seven years in the first team. “I’ve been at Villa all my life, since I was six – growing up, playing for my boyhood club and captaining it.
“Leaving was a tough decision, I’ve said that many times, but it was something I just felt at the time. I think it was the perfect time for me to move on, d to try something new and get out of my comfort zone.
“When I came here it was different because at Villa, and also when I leave with the national team, you have the same culture, you have the same nationality; most of the guys are English. And here, we are only, what, four or five English people.
He marvels at the linguistic acrobatics of his Brazilian teammates Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho. ‘Gabi and Dinho, I’m sure they can speak three or four languages each, so it’s amazing. It’s something I would love to do, but I don’t think I have the patience for it.
Grealish said ‘it was a massive decision’ to leave Villa, having been there since he was six years old
Grealish has had to adjust to a different role at City under Guardiola’s complex setup
Maybe, but he’s needed patience when it comes to the football lessons he’s learning under Guardiola.
A player used to having the license to move from his left flank under Dean Smith at Aston Villa has had to adjust to less freedom now that he is no longer the main man. He has become a cog in a carefully managed machine. “I don’t think it’s a secret that I would have liked to score more and assist more, but I feel like I played well even when I didn’t score or assist.”
Grealish has nothing but praise for Guardiola. “He’s an amazing manager. He’s just a football addict. As soon as he steps foot in the building, everything revolves around football, everything revolves around the next game. I can’t talk about him enough He’s a brilliant manager who helps the team so much I’ve said sometimes this season that he’s won games on his own, with the way he prepared us and the tactics he gave us, and we went over there and got the job done.
In addition to football lessons, Grealish continues to gain knowledge elsewhere, including how to deal with the high emotional swings of football. He admits it has been a challenge for him, first as a boy wonder and later captain at Villa, now as a £100million man at City.
Grealish has nothing but praise for Guardiola’s influence in his first season with City
Grealish hopes to lace up his boots again for England at the World Cup later this year
He’s still learning “just to deal with the good times and deal with the bad times.” I think in football it’s such a roller coaster ride, you know – you’re up and you’re down. If you don’t get the desired result, you go home and are devastated.
Grealish goes on to quote advice given to him by one of his former Villa academy coaches, Steve Burns. “He always said, ‘Pressure is a privilege’.
“There’s such a mental side to football, where you have to be in the right frame of mind. Pressure is a big thing in football, especially for me coming here for this award and being English. I think that the media tries to put a lot of pressure on your shoulders.
The “being English” bit is worth pointing out. The spotlight shone on Grealish last summer when he became a Wembley crowd favorite during England’s run to the Euro 2020 final.
He says, “Have you heard the quote that you don’t realize how great or how good something is until it’s gone?” That’s my case. Now looking back it was amazing. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
‘England have been so kind to us, they have done everything to make us feel at home in our hotel and in our camp. I absolutely loved it. It’s a shame we couldn’t get past the final hurdle and losing on penalties is the worst way to lose.
Grealish described the Champions League as the one honor ‘everyone wants’ this season
“There are some regrets, but I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to play in a major tournament for my country. I think it was a time that brought the whole country together.
Grealish will be hoping to step into his shoes for England again at the World Cup later this year, but first comes the quest for honors with City – and relishing his first season of Champions League football. Last season’s finalists are trying to go even further. The hope is now for an even more dramatic conclusion.
“Most of the guys here have won it all, many times too, so I think that’s the one everyone wants this year,” says a man still in search of his first senior honours.
“It’s great if we can win every competition we enter, but this being the one we haven’t won yet, that’s what we have our eyes on.”
This is an edited extract from the new issue of Champions Journal, the official magazine of the Champions League. Buy your copy via bit.ly/dm_grealish