Armed with the boyish charm and marketability of David Beckham and the skills and playfulness of Paul Gascoigne, Jack Grealish has a potent mix that has seen him quickly emerge as the face of English soccer.
Now that he is starting to add trophies to his growing list of endorsement deals that already include Gucci and Puma, the possibilities appear endless for the Manchester City winger who is the most expensive English soccer player of all time.
Grealish — he of the bulging calf muscles and swept-back hair — was already hot property in the English game before a 2021 move from Aston Villa to City for £100 million (then US$139 million) that took his appeal to a new level.
Nearing the end of his second season at City, the 27-year-old Grealish has finally established himself as a key part of a Premier League-winning team that is seeking to clinch the second leg of a treble of major titles this season by beating Manchester United in the FA Cup final on Saturday (10 a.m. ET on Sportsnet and SN NOW).
He is far more than a soccer player these days, though.
“People like Jack Grealish are the new sports lifestyle icons,” Alan Seymour, a sports academic and author in business and marketing, told The Associated Press. “As he’s matured and got more attuned to what is required of him as a footballer, on the field and off the field, it’s why he is right up there with the very best sports personalities for marketability, not only in football but away from football.”
Elements of the wild-child image that shadowed him in the early years of his career remain.
At the height of the lockdown amid the pandemic, Grealish was found slurring his words after crashing his car in a residential estate and was later banned from driving for nine months. Then there were those images of him playing a prominent role in City’s Premier League title celebrations last year, when he was seen swigging a beer and — bleary-eyed and with a croaky voice — aiming a dig at Newcastle midfielder Miguel Almiron that gained plenty of air time.
Grealish unashamedly accepts that’s who he is. He recently said he might have been a nightclub promoter if he wasn’t a soccer player and that he’d always be prone to the kind of excesses that mean he embodies the spirit of a regular soccer fan.
But the loveable, charming part of Grealish’s personality is inescapable. It shines through in every interview he does — he pinches himself that he is a soccer professional, playing against the likes of Real Madrid in the Champions League — and in his public friendship with a young City fan named Finley, who has cerebral palsy. He’s a popular member of the City squad, striking up a particularly close relationship with superstar striker Erling Haaland off the field.
“I feel so much more confident in this team,” said Grealish, who was left out of many of City’s big games last season while he adapted to the demands of manager Pep Guardiola. “I feel fitter and back to what I know, what I can do. This is why City bought me and I have so much to offer.”
Big brands think so, too. He is an ambassador for fashion house Gucci and for Bose audio equipment, and this year signed a boot deal with Puma that’s reportedly the most lucrative by a British player, worth about £10 million per season over the next five years.
He has seven million followers on Instagram and 4.2 million on TikTok. The British press are even starting to liken Grealish and his girlfriend, fashion model Sasha Attwood, to David and Victoria Beckham, and the way Grealish wears a handband — boyband-style — to manage his floppy hair furthers the comparisons with Beckham, even if their playing style is very different.
“He has boyish charm and likeability, that impish, roguish element to him,” Seymour said. “If I put it into marketing speak, you have a point of difference and point of parity — his point of difference is his appeal.
“The synergy (with Beckham) is clearly there,” he added. “But a sportsperson always says I don’t want to be compared to, I want to be the new, ‘I am.’ I think Jack Grealish will always go out of his way to point that out. He is putting himself out there and that is what sponsors look for.”
The comparisons with Gascoigne, the mercurial central midfielder who helped England to the semifinals of the 1990 World Cup and the 1996 European Championship, come in the way Grealish carries the ball with such pace and directness that he is constantly one of the most-fouled players in the Premier League.
Grealish knows he needs to score more goals and have more assists to be rated as one of the world’s best attackers, but his technique and first touch is up there with the game’s finest players.
Guardiola values, in particular, the control Grealish brings to the team from his spot on the left of the team’s front three and that — plus his work rate — is why he is now a first-choice pick for the biggest games.
Like the FA Cup final on Saturday and the Champions League final against Inter Milan the following weekend.
“We still have some massive games left,” Grealish said, “and we feel unstoppable.”