BURTON-ON-TRENT, England (AP) — Fresh from an afternoon nap, Jack Grealish wandered over to a picnic table sipping juice through a straw.
Had he not made it as a player and been at the European Championship, Grealish envisioned a very different career path, probably sipping something a little stronger.
“I would be getting everyone into the club,” he said.
As nightclub promoter, that is. Grealish is imagining an alternative path as part of hedonistic nights on the Spanish islands of Ibiza and Tenerife, rather than sitting in the sun at England’s St. George’s Park training base preparing for a quarterfinal meeting with Ukraine on Saturday.
“I’m just a normal kid and, as I’ve grown up … that’s probably one of the hardest things,” he said. “I look at what my friends are doing and I’d love to be like that sometimes and just go and do stuff.”
Perhaps it’s because the winger seems to embody the spirit of a regular fan that has endeared him so much to the Wembley Stadium crowd in England’s run to the Euro 2020 quarterfinals.
“I try and get fans off their seats,” he said. “I try and attack as much as possible and I think that’s what fans want to see.”
The Aston Villa captain has become the player fans yearn to see despite, or maybe because, he has only started one of England’s four games at Euro 2020.
“Super Jack Grealish,” they chant for the player recognizable for his swept-back hair and bulging calf muscles who is more used to being booed at Premier League stadiums.
“It’s weird,” he said. “It’s nice when Villa fans are doing it, but you kind of expect it because you are one of them. But when it’s England fans, it’s different.”
He has still found time to assist on half of the four goals, including the cross for Harry Kane to complete the 2-0 win over Germany on Tuesday. After coming on as a second-half substitute for Bukayo Saka, he was also part of the move leading to Raheem Sterling’s opener.
Grealish has had to get used to a role as an impact substitute for England when he normally plays almost every minute for Villa. It’s a sign of the enviable attacking options available to England coach Gareth Southgate.
“I have to be realistic about myself,” Grealish said, “and the talent that we have.”
There’s Kane, who is guaranteed to start, along with Sterling — another favorite of Southgate’s — plus Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden and Saka.
“That’s scary how good us six are,” Grealish said. “That’s not being big-headed or nothing. That is just the truth. I’ve got to be realistic. I’ve just got to go and train as well as possible.”
It’s tough for Southgate to disappoint the players he has to leave out.
“Plenty of cuddles,” he quipped of Southgate’s style. “He’s a brilliant man-manager and he has all these attacking players that play week in, week out at their clubs. It’s the same for those other six, for those who haven’t had the game time they would have liked. He can’t play all six of us.”
The clamor is for Grealish to start in Rome against Ukraine with a place in the semifinals on the line. England also reached the last four at the 2018 World Cup, losing to Croatia, two years before Grealish made his England debut.
“I always try and play with a smile on my face because I’m doing what I love,” he said. “If I wasn’t a footballer and I was just with my mates, I would just to be doing what they’re doing. I’d be traveling everywhere watching England, being in pubs.”