Creative Soccer Culture

Jack Grealish Talks Captaincy, Aston Villa & FIFA 20

When Jack Grealish was handed the captain's armband in March many had already written off Aston Villa's season. Villa sat in 13th place in the Championship before boyhood fan Grealish led his side to an unbeaten 11-match-run to storm into the play-offs, beat rivals West Brom, and set up a play-off final that would define the next chapter of their young captain's life. Now, at the FIFA 20 World Premiere in London, he sits in front of us as a proud Premier League skipper.

Having just turned 24, Grealish is the youngest captain in the Premier League this season, but what he lacks in years he more than makes up for in knowledge about Aston Villa and what it means to represent them in the top flight. Having been at the club since he was six years old Aston Villa is all Grealish knows, and all he wants to know. We caught up with him at the FIFA 20 launch event to talk about his monumental year, his leadership, and to find out how some his teammates rank at FIFA.


Jack, do you remember you first ever copy of FIFA?

Do you know what? I don’t because it just feels like I’ve been playing it my whole life. Every year when the new version came out I’d get it that day, and then I’d be playing it all the time. So to be here today is actually a massive privilege.

Do you remember the first time that you were on the game as a player?

Yeah, I remember one of my friends rang me and said “you’re on FIFA, ya know?” because he must have got it before me and I was buzzing!

Can you remember your ratings back then?

Nah, I was bad. I was probably late 50s or something but that didn’t stop me playing myself every game.

And what about now, are you pleased with your ratings?

Nah, not really! I think they should be a little bit higher. I’m on 77 but I reckon they could have nudged it up to 78 or 79!

When EA Sports come in to do the head-scans and stuff are you in their ear trying to get your ratings up or showing them videos of those volleys you’ve scored?

Yeah! You score those volleys and end up on 66 shooting! But I remember the first one I was on I was just like a generic player in terms of appearance so it’s nice now that I actually look like myself, they’ve got the hair right and even the low down socks which is great. The attention to detail on this one is mad.

How often do you play?

All the time. Especially when it first comes out. We get a lot of rest time so it’s perfect to play then. And then we’re on the road and in hotels a lot so there’s alway a console with us. It’s like a universal language, you can get a player in who doesn’t speak much English but once you’re playing FIFA together it doesn’t matter.

Who’s the best player you’ve played against?

The worst I’ve played against is Ben Chilwell. I can comfortably beat him 6-0 every time.

You’ve just answered our next question… so who’s the best?

I’m pretty good! I’ll say me!

Fair enough. Who’s most likely to quit when they’re 3-0 down?

John McGinn. Every time.


From the screen to the pitch… you were made captain last season and went on that incredible run that ended in promotion. That must have been an honour…

It’s a huge privilege for me as a Villa fan. The moment I was made captain is a moment I’ll never forget. I remember when Dean Smith told me that I was going to be captain I immediately got a little bit emotional, it was a huge deal for me. All of sudden I’ve captained my boyhood club in the Premier League. To be honest it’s not even something I dreamt of because, I do see myself as a leader, but not necessarily the captain in that I’ve never really been the captain coming up through the ranks, but I was playing well last season and earned the respect of teammates and I think that’s why I’ve been given the armband.

Getting the captaincy at such a young age, does that come with challenges? How have the older players helped you?

They’ve all been brilliant with me. You’ve got to look at the likes of Tom Heaton who captained Burnley in the Premier League for a long time, he’s been a part of England squads too, so for me to be selected as captain when we’ve got players with his experience in the squad felt a bit weird at first. All the senior players have been brilliant. I try not to overthink it to be honest, I think you can sometimes be overwhelmed by the captaincy but at the end of the day you’re just wearing a band, it doesn’t mean you have to shout more or work harder, it’s just the same, we've all got to be working to the max regardless. We have a team full of leaders, and that’s helped me. No one is precious about the title of captain, when the game kicks off I think we all lead.

What sort of captain would your teammates describe you as?

I’d say I’m pretty chilled to be honest. I’ve never been one for shouting around for no reason. When you think of a captain you think of that stereotypical aggressive, getting everyone worked up sort of style, do this, do that, ya know? But I’m not like that, if someone needs be told something then I’ll say it if I feel like I need to, but I’m pretty calm.

Does it feel different being in the Premier League this season, in comparison to your first three seasons with Villa?

Yeah it feels a lot different. For me personally, back then I was inexperienced but now I feel like I’ve done those years in the Championship and changed as a player and person. I’m much more mature now too. So it feels different because of those reasons but also I think that right now is the best time ever to be playing in the Premier League in terms of the global coverage. Everyone is watching it because it’s the biggest league in the world. It feels so much bigger.

So those seasons in the Championship have made you kind of appreciate the Premier League a bit more?

Yeah, definitely. Last season I was desperate to play in the Premier League. Every game in the Premier League is such a huge event, it’s the biggest stage of all. Hopefully now I’m back in it I can push on and showcase my talent.

I got hammered that day! They were at me! For some reason their fans are always on me! It’s all part of the fun though."

Your manager recently described you as a ‘football nut’ in that he’s had to drag you off the training pitch. Have you always been like that or has it gone up a notch now you’re back in the Premier League?

I’ve always been like that to be honest. I’m much more into my gym and stuff now whereas maybe three or so years ago I didn’t really do it, I was all football. But now I’m so into my gym stuff, but you have to be; if you look at the Premier League now everyone is so fit, so strong, fast, powerful and just so athletically tuned, so you have to be too. It’s a massive difference playing in the Championship compared to the Premier League, so as a squad we’ve all had to up our game for this season.

Last season you were the most fouled player in the Championship. With that does there come a lot of verbals too?

Yeah, a fair bit. I got booked for diving the other week and it was never, ever a dive! I don’t see myself as diver at all, I see on social media people saying that I go down easily but at the end of the day if I’m getting fouled then I’m going to go down if I can’t stay on my feet.

The game that sticks out for us was away to Sheffield United last season. You were getting all sorts from the fans…

I got hammered that day! They were at me! For some reason their fans are always on me! It’s all part of the fun though.

Do you take it as a compliment when rivals fans are booing you?

I suppose you’ve got to really. It has to be a good sign that they’re bothered about you, I guess. I get that they’re doing it to disrupt a players game so I can take it. Every club does it, so you can’t be sensitive about it.

Does that carry over to social media then?

Ah mate, aaaall the time. You’ve gotta be able to laugh it off, but it does get boring.

Fans have such false perceptions of players judged off what they see through biased eyes on a pitch. We watched a couple of YouTube interview with you and the first few comments were always; “I used to think Grealish was this or that, but he actually seems a really nice lad”…

I think it’s a bit of a shame nowadays that footballers feel like they can never really open up. People just see you for 90 minutes on a football pitch and that’s it. I know that’s obviously not everyone but I can see why some players play it safe and literally just roll off the basic answers in interviews. I think most players would be so different to what people actually assume they’re like if they met them. But footballers aren’t alone in that, I guess it applies to most people any public eye.

I was sat there thinking that if I lose today then I ain’t a Villa player. That was the reality, and it felt very much all or nothing."

Now that Villa are back in the Premier League, your team are starting to get a lot more recognition. Tyrone Mings being one. How happy were you for him that he got his England call up?

Yeah I was buzzing. Tyrone deserves it massively. In my opinion he’s one of the best centre backs in the league, he’s brilliant. I actually couldn’t believe when he first came to Villa just how good he was and I’m confident his first cap for England isn’t very far away at all. His inclusion in the England squad also gives me huge inspiration because I want to be playing for England too.

Do you feel like you’re closer to that call up now?

I feel like I’m a little bit closer I’d say. I look at players in my position though and there’s so much exceptional competition, players like James Maddison, Dele Alli, Mason Mount. I know that I’ve got to earn the right to be in the England squad first and then we’ll see what happens. There’s so many good young English players at the moment and that’s exciting.

There was a lot of interest in you last summer from other Premier League teams. What would it have been like to watch Villa get promoted and not be a part of it?

It would have been devastating to be honest. That was my dream, ya know, to be at Villa and to get them back to the Premier League, so as much as I would have been happy to see the club I’ve supported my whole life get promoted, it would have been really, really difficult to watch. I couldn’t imagine not being a part of it and that’s why I stayed. The whole of last season was incredible, especially the second half when we went unbeaten. Even if, or when should I say, we stay up this year, even if we win a cup, nothing will compare with last season. To win such a high pressure, high stakes game at Wembley and lift a trophy was incredible. If you lose a cup final it would hurt, but you'd still be in the Premier League, so to lose that game would have been devastating.

Do you think it would have felt a bit hollow if you had signed for another team and won something with them? A bit like the whole Gerrard to Chelsea thing…

Yeah I think so. I’m a Villa fan, I have been my whole life, so I couldn’t even imagine what playing for another club would feel like right now. I was close to doing it with Tottenham last year but it never happened.

That play off final is the most high pressured football match in the world. The effect it can have on the winners and losers is huge. What were you like the night before the game?

I was fine to be honest, my barber came round to my hotel and it was just really chilled out. Obviously it’s a massive game, the most expensive game of football on the planet, and yeah it’s doing something high pressured, but it’s doing the one thing that you’d choose to back yourself to do under pressure – playing football. We play every day so it’s not like you’re stepping into the unknown, or something you can’t do. Do you know what I mean? It’s like if you had to interview Cristiano Ronaldo or whoever, once he sits down here you’d know what to do. Same for any profession.

I think the main thing for the play-off final was just managing it as a group. I was fine though, I don’t really feel pressure too much. Just gotta remember you started playing football for fun, so you’re here to enjoy yourself.


Was it pure relief at full time? That was such a big season for Villa to get the job done…

Honestly, it was unbelievable. I always had in my head how good it would be to win that game rather than how devastating it would be to lose it. Even during the game when we were drawing I was thinking how good it would be to climb those stairs and lift that trophy. They [Derby] had so much momentum at the end of the game that I feel like if they scored one it would have ended up going to extra time and we would have got beat.

Before the game are you thinking, if we lose this then not just my career but my life could go in a different direction in terms of having to reluctantly move away from Birmingham…

Yeah definitely. I was sat there thinking that if I lose today then I ain’t a Villa player. That was the reality. But that motivated me rather than made me nervous. And if I win then I get to carry on being a Villa player, in the Premier League too. It felt very much all or nothing so that’s why full time was just a mixture of relief, joy, everything really.

Last season Villa were arguably the biggest club in the Championship. You would have been favourites for most games. Is it nice to embrace the underdog tag a bit this season in the Premier League?

It’s definitely different. You look at our games last season and most the time we had much more of the ball than the opposition, we were always the favourites to win, teams would come to Villa Park with nothing to lose, but this year we will be underdogs, and we will have much less of the ball, which makes it difficult for me because I like to get on the ball as an attacking player, but it’s definitely exciting being an underdog.

Finally, we’ve got to ask you about those battered Nike Hypervenom boots you wore in the play off final. They were falling apart! Have you still got them?

Yeah, the club have said they want them to put on show at the stadium. I think they’ll keep those ones because they ended up getting quite famous! Funny thing is I’m not really that much of a superstitious person, but we ended up winning so many games I just couldn’t throw them out.

Bet Nike were trying to get you in their latest colourway for the final?

Yeah, they were on at me offering me different colourways, new models, and basically anything that obviously wasn’t falling apart! But there was no way I was changing.


Jack Grealish was speaking to us at the FIFA 20 World Premiere. EA SPORTS FIFA 20, featuring VOLTA FOOTBALL, is out now on all platforms, to get your copy, head to

Photography by Ben McQuaide for SoccerBible.


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