Football might not be coming home this year, but it’s fair to say the England players gave their supporters one of the best months of their lives.
Looking back at Euro 2020, the highlight for many England fans will no doubt be their 2-0 victory over long-standing rivals Germany in the round of 16.
It was also the night that Jack Grealish showed the world why he is the man everyone is talking about, as he lit up Wembley and led his team to the quarter-finals. His ‘Jack the lad’ persona has won the hearts of fans all over the world, and his flair on the pitch has affirmed his place as one of world football’s top talents. A creative midfielder capable of the spectacular, his playing style has been likened to Paul Gascoigne and Lionel Messi, but he’s determined to carve his own path in the professional game. Earlier this month, SWM’s partner Louis Vuitton, closed their flagship store in London to welcome Jack for a photoshoot and world-exclusive interview. We discussed how life has changed, the factors that have led to his successes on the pitch, and what Jack enjoys most about the lifestyle of a professional footballer.
“Life has changed massively on and off the pitch over the last few years,” says Jack. “I’ve grown as a player and person, but off the pitch, it’s no secret how life changes. When you’re doing well, you can’t go to many places unnoticed anymore, like a normal 25-year-old kid can. I don’t go out for food much in Birmingham anymore and life’s definitely different, but I’m sure everyone understands it’s just part and parcel of being a footballer. I suppose I’ve dealt with it well considering I came into the spotlight early as a youngster at around 18, but I feel like I’ve matured a lot over the last few years. I’ve got an older head on my shoulders now, and I try to deal with it as best I can, ‘cause we all know how difficult it can be in this day and age with social media and other pressures.”
Born in Birmingham, less than 10 miles from Villa Park, Jack has claret and blue running through his veins. Having signed for Aston Villa at the age of six, he’s risen through the ranks of his boyhood club, playing his way to the top of the English game. And he’s not the only member of the family to reach the upper echelons of the football pyramid. Jack’s great grandfather, Billy Garraty, made over 200 appearances for Aston Villa, winning the FA Cup in 1905. It’s been seven years since Jack made his first senior appearance against Manchester City at the Etihad in May 2014, and his rise to stardom has been nothing short of breathtaking.
In 2016, Aston Villa were relegated to the Championship after 24 years in the Premier League. It was a crushing blow for the club, but they say in difficulty lies opportunity, and it was Jack’s time to come to the fore. In March 2019, he scored a second-half winner during a memorable Birmingham Derby, in which he was assaulted by a pitch invader. That win proved to be a catalyst for Villa, as Jack went on to captain the club to a record 10 league wins in a row, claiming a spot in football’s most lucrative match, the Championship play-off Final. A 2-1 victory at Wembley secured Aston Villa’s promotion back to the Premier League, and propelled the boy from Solihull onto the world stage.
“That result was definitely a turning point for me and Villa,” says Jack. “I think that was the moment everyone thought we’d return to the Premier League and get back to the club we were in 2010 under Gérard Houllier. Personally, I felt like I’d been playing well before that point, but I think that was the season that it all changed for me. I started to prove myself and people started to take notice, so having that first strong season in the Premier League was massive in terms of getting recognition.”
Jack is the first to admit that captaincy was never on his radar, but it’s a role he’s enjoyed and undoubtedly flourished in over the last few seasons. For millions of football fans across the globe, captaining the club you’ve supported since childhood would be a huge honour, but taxing. Some of sport’s biggest names have struggled with the burden of captaincy, but it appears to have had the opposite effect on Jack. His performances are getting better and better, and although he’s aware of the responsibility on his shoulders, he believes it hasn’t changed him as a person or player.
“It’s unbelievable because I never thought about being captain,” he says.
“I’ve always wanted to play for Villa, but you don’t get many captains playing in my position. I’ve been captain for two and a half years now, and I’ve loved every minute of it and tried to take it in my stride as best I can. I think it’s important not to change too much just because you have the armband on, I don’t go around shouting more or doing anything different. There’s definitely an added responsibility on your shoulders, but I feel like I’ve dealt with that well, and I don’t think it’s changed me too much.”
The 2019/20 season saw Villa finish just one point above the bottom three thanks to Jack’s late goal against West Ham on the final day of the campaign. Despite a challenging year, his performances continued to attract attention from all the right places and impress onlookers, including the England manager Gareth Southgate. In September 2020, he finally made his first-team debut, coming on in the 76th minute against Denmark in Copenhagen. But it was a trip to Wembley and his first competitive start against Belgium’s ‘golden generation’, where he would make his mark on the International stage. A Bergkamp-esque touch and man-of-the-match performance earned him worldwide recognition as one of English football’s most exciting prospects, and all but guaranteed his place in the Euro 2020 squad. His performances continued to turn heads at club level, as he led Villa to 11th place and their highest Premier League finish since 2011.
“The recruitment was strong last year,” says Jack. “We brought in a lot of good players, like Ollie Watkins, who has been unbelievable for us. You’ve also got guys like Matty Cash, Ross Barkley, Bertrand Traoré, and Emi Martínez, who have all joined the side and really put their foot down. But we also had players we’d bought last summer who have really come into their own this year, like Ezri Konsa and Matt Targett, so it all seemed to come together at once. We’ve had an excellent season, and it’s a shame we didn’t get a few more results in the last 10-12 games toward the end of the season. I reckon we could’ve finished higher, but it was certainly an improvement on last season, and I think we’re capable of improving again. It’ll help to have the fans back, as it’s been tough without them – personally I didn’t enjoy it as much as I love the fans cheering you on or giving you stick. We had around 10,000 in against Chelsea for the last game of the season which was unbelievable and a nice insight into what next season will be like.”
Jack is just a normal kid from a working-class background, and it’s clear his family has provided the perfect foundation and upbringing for him to succeed as a professional footballer. His family is hugely important and one of the primary reasons for his success, and he’s made no secret of how influential they’ve been throughout his career to date. Off the pitch, he’s become known for being down-to-earth and relatable, something that has struck a chord with football fans across the country. Despite his newfound stardom and the adulation from all four corners of the globe, he remains level-headed and focused on making the most of his career.
“My family helps keep me grounded”
“My family helps keep me grounded,” says Jack. “I’m really close to them and a proper family boy. They’ve been with me since the beginning of this journey, and they’ve been there for me throughout, but I think I have it in myself to stay grounded. I’m a proper mummy’s boy and so close to all my family; my sisters, my brother, my dad – I owe them a lot. I speak to them constantly, and they’ve been there with me through the ups and downs, whether I’m playing four hours away or four minutes away. My dad’s dropped me everywhere and been all over the world to watch me play football, and he’s been one of the biggest influences on my career. He was never a good footballer, but I can speak to him about anything, and after 20 years of watching me at Villa, he knows the game inside out.”
Jack has always been open about the hardships his family has endured, and lauds each of his family members for the continued motivation they provide. Perhaps the biggest inspiration of all is his youngest sister, Holly. She suffers from cerebral palsy, a group of disorders that affect her ability to move and maintain balance and posture. She’s as close to Jack as anyone, and he admits she’s a massively important figure in his life.
“She’s been a massive inspiration for me,” says Jack. “Obviously as a footballer, I get a lot of attention in Birmingham. She doesn’t see anything like that at all, she simply sees me as her brother Jack, so it’s nice to go home to an environment like that. She means the world to me, and all I want is to make her proud, as I do with all my family members.”
The Premier League is widely considered the most competitive club competition in European football and home to some of the world’s best players. So it’s likely Jack’s one of the few players to have made their league debut while still living at home with their parents, less than half an hour from the stadium. He’s since moved into his own home in Barnt Green, a small village south of Birmingham that’s home to some of the areas top properties and other sports and entertainment professionals. Buying your first home is often considered one of the most exciting milestones in life, but Jack wasn’t keen on moving out initially – probably due to his complete lack of culinary skills…
“It was always going to be difficult to move out, and I didn’t want to at first,” he says. “I know everyone nowadays is so desperate to move out, but I wasn’t at all. I still lived with my family at home when I was 22 and I loved it – my mum did everything for me, so when I moved out it was a shock, but she still comes round and visits me regularly. I love living on my own now, and one day I’d love a second home in Tenerife, which I know is an unusual pick, as most players usually go for Marbella or the Algarve. But it reminds me of my childhood; every summer we went there as a family from the age of 10, and even to this day I love it there. You have the weather all year round, and I think if I could own one home abroad, it would probably be there.”
Fashion and image have become increasingly important to the modern-day footballer, not only in building a personal brand, but also increasing their following. Jack’s become known for his style and iconic appearance both on and off the pitch, preferring not to follow suit, but set trends. His hairstyle, low socks, and children’s shin-pads have become instantly recognisable, and it’s a look emulated by aspiring footballers all over the world. In the last few years, SWM has worked with some of the world’s most stylish players, including Karim Benzema, Ryan Babel, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, to name a few. But when Jack arrived at Louis Vuitton in London, sporting a bright red Drew House tracksuit, it was clear he had a style all his own.
“I take pride in what I wear, whether I’m going into training, town or even just around the house.”
“I love fashion and my clothes,” says Jack. “I take pride in what I wear, whether I’m going into training, town or even just around the house. I like to look good and feel good, so taking pride in what I wear and following fashion is one of the main things I’m into. A player I’ve always followed is Karim Benzema, because he’s well-known for his style and fashion, especially on Instagram. You can tell by his page how much he likes fashion and how much time and effort he puts into looking good. I’d expect he has a stylist because he’s got that many sick outfits, but he’s someone I look at and think, ‘yeah, he’s looking swaggy’. Day to day I just wear tracksuits, I’m never the guy wearing jeans to training or in town shopping. But if I’m going out for food, I’d probably wear jeans as I’d want to look smart, but in bars and clubs, my swag is more out there and a bit colourful. Some players prefer to stay under the radar, but dressing a bit differently is something that’s developed over time and that I like to do. My friend at Villa John McGinn wears the plainest clothes ever, but I prefer to wear something that stands out a bit more.”
SWM first worked with Jack a number of years ago, helping organise a special getaway for his mum to brand partners, Hotel Villa Honegg. Located high above Lake Lucerne in central Switzerland, Villa Honegg is a five-star luxury hotel loved by celebrities and famed for its ‘stairway to heaven’ infinity pool. We booked Jack’s stay back in 2019, and it’s a trip both him and his mum look back on with fond memories.
“Visiting Villa Honegg with my mum was unbelievable,” says Jack. “She always says it was one of her favourite places ever. It was crazy because the weather was so nice and warm, but when you looked off the balcony across the other side of the sea, there were mountains and they were covered in snow. It was something you’d never see in England, and definitely one of the nicest views I’ve ever seen from a hotel room, so you can see why it’s so popular with everyone.”
After a tough year off the pitch and an intense fixture run due to the pandemic and rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament, footballers are ready for a break. It’s been a busy few months for SWM since the season finished, but it’s set to get even busier as we move into the final months of summer and the travel restrictions ease. It seems Mykonos is the place to be this year, with several high profile stars jetting off to the Greek island. It’s a spot Jack knows and loves, and recently welcomed the likes of Luke Shaw, Mason Mount and Declan Rice. With the Euros finished and pre-season looming, Jack admits he’s looking forward to a holiday and that some time to recover is needed more than ever.
“The one thing I can’t wait for is a holiday,” says Jack. “ Last year, we only had a short break because of COVID, but I managed to get away to Mykonos and Ibiza. This year I’ll be hoping for a lengthy break after the Euros so that I can return to Mykonos or visit the South of France for a few weeks. I’ve been wanting to go to America for the last few years, particularly Vegas, La, or Miami, but I haven’t been able to for obvious reasons, so I’ll probably stay in Europe. I like Dubai too, as it’s a place that’s well-known to most footballers – you can’t go there without meeting another player during the summer break. It’s going to be nice to get away, go out, and have a few drinks, but it’s also nice to chill in the sun by the pool sometimes. That’s what I do, and that’s my perfect holiday; go out, go for nice food, go to a bar for a few drinks and relax during the day.
“I’m not keen on having a set schedule and loads of tourism, I’d rather just chill out after the season and prepare for the new season.”
Life after football is becoming increasingly important to modern-day players, as more and more look to transition into a career in business or the media. In recent years, the difficulties players can face following retirement have been well publicised, with high profile players speaking out about the void and lack of purpose. For some, it’s an easy transition; Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher have thrived as Sky Sports pundits, and are arguably as successful off the pitch as they were on it.Andrea Pirlo has his own winery that produces 20,000 bottles a year, Mathieu Flamini founded a biochemical company that’s worth billions, and David Beckham owns MLS side Inter Miami – so players can move on and succeed in new ventures. For many, the switch to coaching or television are the most obvious options, but Jack’s got his eye on the property world.
“I’d love to do something in property when I finish my career,” says Jack. “I’ve always said to this day that I don’t think I want to do anything in football when I retire. I don’t think I want to be a pundit or coach, and I wouldn’t make a great commentator with this accent, so I suppose I’d like to go down the route of property or something I’ll enjoy doing day to day. But you never know, things can change as you get older, and you can develop a different view on things, but I’m still only 25, so I’ve got a lot of years left.”
It’s been an incredible few years for Jack and a summer to remember. There might not be a fairytale ending this time, but bigger moments await Jack Grealish. His raw talent and will to win have garnered the attention of the world’s biggest clubs, who will no doubt have to put their hands in their pockets to prize Jack away from his beloved Aston Villa. But it’s his character off the pitch and infectious likeability that has won the hearts of football fans and non-football fans across the globe. While his future may remain uncertain, there is one thing we can be certain of; it’s going to be one hell of a journey.
I don’t think it’s any secret to anyone how popular and how good SWM is. Whatever you need; whether it’s holidays, drivers, villas abroad or even clothes, it can be absolutely anything and the service is amazing. I’ve obviously used SWM for a while now and I won’t be stopping any time soon. The service is top notch and I look forward to working with them more in the future.