Grealish revels in Gazza comparisons after swaggering England display

If there has been a point when you have not liked Jack Grealish’s approach to the beautiful game, ­listen to his reflections on Paul Gascoigne.

“He played with such… I don’t know what the right word is… but he played football with such joy.”

Exactly the right word, Jack. Gascoigne’s football in a three-letter nutshell.

“That is what I want to do,” Grealish goes on. “One of the biggest ­compliments for people to say to you is that you make them happy watching football.”

Grealish was talking on a high after swaggering through a full England debut at an empty Wembley on Thursday.

It was hard to believe this throwback talent had been forced to wait half a decade to announce himself on a stage he looks born to grace. Just as Gascoigne was born to it.

Grealish, 25, has seen plenty of footage, watched the documentaries, drunk in the tales.

He is also aware that many see traits of Gazza in him. The impudence, the strut, a confidence that almost taunts opponents, the vision.

“Of course I know about Gazza,” Grealish says. “I don’t really see myself as him but I would love to be like him, the way he played football.

“I would love to get compared to Gazza. I think he is an absolute icon.

"Along with Wayne Rooney he was probably one of the ­greatest England players over the last 30 years. There have been a load but, if they were the top two, Gazza would be my first.”

Gascoigne, of course, had the sort of emotional tie with his boyhood club that Grealish has with Aston Villa.

But while Gazza moved to bright lights away from Newcastle, Grealish has remained in the same, familiar environment.

Now, Grealish thinks finally having a parallel existence with the national team could take him to a new level.

He explains: “I have only known Villa my whole life. It’s always been ‘Villa, Villa, Villa’ – I have never been anywhere else. It is nice to have that change of scenery. But it is the standard that these guys set.

"They are the top players. You only have to look at Harry Kane… he is first on the training pitch, he is first in the meetings. He is last off the training pitch, he is practising his finishing, free-kicks, every single day.

“Sometimes it makes you think: ‘You know what? No wonder he is one of the best strikers in the world.’

“You see that and it makes you want to go back to Villa and set those standards around the place. That is what I have tried to do.”

But while Grealish is clearly impressed with the meticulousness and ultra-professionalism of Kane and company, it is clear he has an old-school streak in him.

“I eat healthy but I am not one of these players who does a lot of stuff off the pitch,” he smiles. “There are some ­players back at Villa who are like ‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’ or ‘I can’t do this two days before a game!’

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“Well, none of that really bothers me. I go with the flow. When I am playing there on a Saturday, I try not to let nerves get to me. I do this every single day for a living.”

And he can go with the flow on the field.

“I see myself playing as a No.8 for England, I see myself playing as a No.10, I see myself as a left-winger or a right-winger,” he laughs. “I couldn’t care less where I play. I am one of those people who just love football.”

One of those people who like making people happy, one of those people who play with… joy.

One of those people like Gazza.

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