Jack Grealish says he has found his move to Manchester City harder than expected after joining in a £100m deal from Aston Villa.
Grealish became the most expensive British player ever when he left his boyhood club to join City in the summer.
He was initially a regular starter under Pep Guardiola but has been in and out of the side recently and has not produced the same output in terms of goals or assists that he did at Villa.
'I didn't expect to have this lead' - Guardiola not worried by City draw,
“I’ve got so much more to give,” he told the Telegraph ahead of facing Villa this week.
"I’ve found it a lot more difficult than I thought I would, adapting to a different manager and team-mates. At first I thought I’d have more of the ball, get more assists and goals but it doesn’t work like that at all. I’ve had nowhere near as much of the ball as I used to get at Villa.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve struggled, but I found it hard to get used to at the start. I’ve not had the assists and goals I got last season, but I’m never one to doubt myself.”
He says the £100m pricetag has not phased him.
“I couldn’t care less about that. There’s a spotlight on you but, if anything, it’s a nice thing to have as the first British £100million player.”
Grealish will make his first return to Villa Park on Wednesday and may get a mixed reception, with some supporters unhappy that he chose to depart in the summer.
“You can’t imagine how hard it was for me to leave,” he says. “I went for a run in the morning, a load of people took photographs of me and it was all on social [media] that I was staying.
“I came back and had to address all the players and staff. There were about 70 people there. I spoke for about a minute-and-a-half, then I had to stop because I had a lump in my throat and was crying.
“I was a bit surprised by some of the backlash when I left. I’d never want a toxic relationship with anyone there. I owe everything to them and I wouldn’t be at City without Villa.”
Villa fans were partly frustrated to see Grealish leave because he had only signed a five-year deal the previous summer. He says he was also "really close" to joining Manchester United in 2020 before deciding to stay at Villa.
“I was really close to going, but nothing happened in the end. We played United in a pre-season game on Saturday and I wasn’t supposed to play in a cup game at Burton. But after the United game I said to Purslow and my agent [David Manasseh] ‘if I’m not leaving, I’ll sign my new contract’.
“I went in with my dog on Tuesday morning, signed the deal, and played later that day. We all agreed on the clause and if any team hit that, it’s a win-win because it means I’ve had an unbelievable season and Villa got £100million.”
While Grealish has so far not had a starring role this season, City have still enjoyed an impressive campaign. They are second in the Premier League, one point behind leaders Chelsea, and have qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League as group winners.
Grealish says manager Guardiola has had a huge impact on games with his preparation and "structured" approach.
“Some games this season he’s literally won on his own, from stuff he’s got us to do on the training pitch, with little tactics or tweaks. He’s an unbelievable manager and obsessed with football,” says Grealish.
“You don’t see much of him in the building, but we see him on the pitches and in meetings. He has a lot of people working with him but 99 per cent of it comes from him. Every game we have a different way of setting up and it helps us so much.
“It’s weird because I’ve always classed myself as an off-the-cuff player. Last season I was playing left-wing and Dean Smith would say ‘if you feel like it’s right to go inside, I trust you and go and do it’.
“Here, it’s more structured and completely different. That is what I mean about adapting. There’s lots of meetings and a lot to get used to.”
Grealish has also been impressed by full-back Joao Cancelo.
“Joao is unreal! I can’t tell you how good he is, honestly one of the best players I’ve ever played with. He’s loud, and a funny guy. He doesn’t speak much English but I’ve got a good connection with him.”
'I cannot betray them' - Guardiola not considering Man City exit
Torres reveals Guardiola advice and adapting to ‘Barca DNA’ at Barcelona unveiling