Jack Grealish: Holiday with Haaland, that photo and ‘the best weeks of my life’

It all started with a Sharpie. Jack Grealish had passed by the waiting media but politely declined a request for a much sought-after interview. He did, though, want to sign a shirt.

Two Japanese fans held up the Manchester City jersey while bouncing up and down and pumping their fists. Grealish had no problem joining in with the dancing but had an issue with the pen.

A signature connoisseur, he suspected that the ball-point they offered him would rip the shirt, so he called out for a Sharpie.

A City staffer ran off to find one and, while the search went on, Kyle Walker wandered over and got involved in the dancing (and dutifully ignored shouted questions about joining Bayern Munich, minutes after City sporting director Txiki Begiristain left alongside his Bayern counterparts).

The sight of two players dancing in a mixed zone is the kind of thing you either see in pre-season or after a Champions League final victory, but perhaps the way last season ended for City means a bit of dancing is always on the cards from now on.

Fun is never far away when Grealish is around, that is for sure, and while all this was unfolding, one of the hardened journalists who had already been rejected nipped around and persisted. To the delight of the beleaguered souls who have followed the team out to Tokyo — and soon Seoul — Grealish relented.

A post-match audience with Grealish is a rare thing, certainly for the written press. He is gold in front of a microphone but that is normally reserved for the television and radio broadcasters; the last time he spoke in a “mixed zone” — the interview area — was in the United States during last summer’s pre-season tour.

But here he was, ready to do it again, and in six minutes he ran through his desperation to win the Community Shield, a mid-summer dinner with Erling Haaland and even that famous arms-outstretched photo from June’s victorious parade after he did indeed win the lot.

It is hot in Tokyo, very hot. In his post-match press conference, Pep Guardiola suggested it was too hot to train, even, while insisting that, despite knowing he would have been annoyed by this when he was younger, he realises it is now just part of the game.

Grealish, though, seems to enjoy it.

“I was in Dubai for a little bit before this, trying to get used to it,” he said. “I love it, I like training in these conditions. It probably gets you fitter and it prepares you for the season because when you go back to England it’s obviously cooler.”

City play Arsenal in the Community Shield a week on Saturday, by which point they will have played three friendlies here in Asia and apparently not had the best training sessions.

“I’ve said to a few of the guys that I’m desperate to win the Community Shield,” Grealish insists, not worried about any of that. “This is my third year here and I’ve lost two of those finals (against Leicester at Wembley in 2021 and against Liverpool in Leicester in 2022). I’m desperate. As a footballer, you want to win as much as possible but you also want to win everything once. That’s what I want. At least once! You tick them off, don’t you? I lost out on two and I want one.”

They face Arsenal, last season’s Premier League runners-up, rather than the FA Cup winners because City won that as well. Seven days after winning that, they added the Champions League in Istanbul. Just five weeks later, they were back to work, ready to go again.

“It has been a whirlwind,” Grealish says. “For the first two or three weeks after we won the treble, I didn’t really take it in. Now it’s been a while and I’ve come to terms with it. They were the best few weeks of my life.

“It was tense. I think if you go back to the international break in March, I was thinking, ‘Are we going to win anything this year?’.

“We were out of the Carabao Cup, second in the league and in the quarter-final of the Champions League and semi-final of the FA Cup.

“Then, after that international break, especially in April when we played eight or nine games and drew only one — away at Bayern Munich when we didn’t have to win — we were unstoppable. In that period, that was the most unstoppable I’ve felt during my whole career, whether that’s playing for England or here at City.

“I just had so much belief, and going on to win the treble was brilliant.”

The challenge for the players is to find the motivation to go again. That has been one of Guardiola’s main focuses in Asia, reminding his players about the importance of tracking back as one example, but so far the players are, at least, saying the right things.

Ruben Dias seems completely ready to do it all again, and with Grealish still desperate to win the Community Shield — which is often overlooked in English football — the signs are certainly good at this stage.

“That’s why we’re all at a top club and why we’re so successful,” he says. “Everyone wants to win.

“We have talent, we have everything. We have experience, we have young guys and pure talent. But you also need the winning mentality and we’ve definitely got that.”

Mateo Kovacic, the one new arrival this summer, has, according to Dias, already remarked on the strength of the City dressing room and a big part of that is Grealish and Haaland, a somewhat unlikely duo who have formed a very close bond during a year together at City.

“He was happy to see me!” Grealish said of the Norwegian. “We get on really well. I wouldn’t say we’re a similar age because there are three or four years difference, but we get on really well — on and off the pitch.

“He’s a great guy, so humble, and obviously an unbelievable footballer. I met up with him in the south of France in the summer, when we went out for some food.

“But then I didn’t see him for a while. It was nice to see him again, but it was nice to see everyone.

“I saw Ruben mention Kovacic saying he couldn’t believe how close we all are. We don’t just say that; it’s the truth.

“We have such a great group here and hopefully it can continue. We’ve lost Gundo (Ilkay Gundogan), who was a massive part of us, but you make so many good friends along the way in football and people do come and go.

“It’s obviously sad but we have a great team and a very strong group.”

Grealish was not just in Dubai before pre-season, he was also in Ibiza, working hard on the training pitch.

Much was made of his boozy celebrations — and they were certainly eye-catching — but the hard work often goes unnoticed. It probably did him no favours, then, that those celebrations were immortalised with a piece of modern art: a photograph of him standing at the front of City’s open-top bus, arms outstretched in the pouring rain.


“It’s a nice photo, isn’t it? I’ve not got a copy yet, but I’ll have to get it framed in my house.

“It was well deserved after winning the treble and that photo will bring back good memories forever.”

You never know when you’ll speak to Grealish again in this game, so it is little wonder that all sorts of questions get thrown his way.

No matter the subject, though, Grealish is always worth listening to.

(Top photo: Tom Flathers/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

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