Jack Grealish spoke exclusively to Sky Sports ahead of the Championship play-off final
Jack Grealish insists he has grown up as a player and a person over the past year as he looks to guide Aston Villa back to the Premier League.
Grealish’s Villa take on Fulham on Saturday in the Championship play-off final, live on Sky Sports Football from 4pm, after a two-year absence from the top flight.
The 22-year-old suffered a life-threatening injury during a summer pre-season friendly with Watford, where his kidney split in two places, but Grealish returned in late 2017 and has been an impressive performer since.
In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Grealish says the injury brought home just how fragile the life of a professional footballer can be, and says his partying days are behind him.
“As a footballer there is so much spare time,” Grealish said. “When I was younger I was probably doing stuff I shouldn’t have been, going out too much, but now there is only one aim.
“The start of the season was horrible, and you realise what you really want to do, and for me all I want to do is play football. I choose what I do differently now, and my main focus is football.
“Obviously you’ve got to take some time to go out, but just not every weekend! You have to choose when you do it, at the right times, but for me at the moment all I want to do is play football, train and get this club back to where it belongs.
“I’m still a young kid now, only 22, but when I first came onto the seen at 18 or 19 you have so much time to grow up on and off the pitch.”
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May 26, 2018, 4:00pm
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In 2015, after helping Villa to an FA Cup final and survival in the Premier League, Grealish was pictured slumped in the street during a holiday in Tenerife.
But now, the midfielder insists he has seen the light, and his sole focus is on prolonging his football career.
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“Stuff happened, everyone is like it, but I was a young kid back then, I’ve grown up now. You see the light, I certainly have, and all I want to do is concentrate on my football and be the best I can be, and put all of that behind me.”
Asked if his friendship group has changed, Grealish said: “Yeah, definitely. As you grow up you understand stuff like that, you listen to your parents. You start to learn who is really there for you, I’m happy to have done that at such a young age.
“Maybe when I was younger I was surrounding myself with the wrong type of people, but now I feel I have the right people around me to help me improve.
Villa midfielder Robert Snodgrass sat down with David Prutton ahead of the play-off final
“When you’re a young kid, you’ve burst onto the scene, everyone want sort be your friend, come out with you, and you don’t actually realise who wants to be there with you and who wants to be your friend.
“But as the years have gone by you grow up more, and I do know now.”
John Terry’s arrival at the club last summer shocked many, but his influence on the team as captain has been clear to see, and Grealish puts much of his growth down to the 37-year-old defender.
We take a look at one of Aston Villa's stand out players – Jack Grealish.
“I feel like I have grown up. You learn things, especially around the likes of JT, Mile [Jedinak] and Snoddy [Robert Snodgrass], they’re in your ear all the time in a good way, telling you what to do on and off the pitch.
“When [Terry] first came it was a big shock, I had to pinch myself a bit, and was a bit star-struck. But straight away you see the little bits of quality he does on the training pitch.
“He’s been such a big help to me, and was one of the first people to call me in hospital.
“He’s first in, last out, and does everything. Whether massages, in the gym or pool after training, he does everything right.”
Watch Aston Villa v Fulham in the Sky Bet Championship play-off final on Saturday, with coverage starting from 4pm on Sky Sports Football