Jack Grealish does not understand how he has become England’s poster boy, but such adulation makes him all the more determined to help Gareth Southgate’s side make history.
The 25-year-old may have only won 10 senior caps and played 115 minutes of major tournament football, but the Aston Villa playmaker has already established himself as a fan favourite.
‘Super Jack’ echoed around Wembley before his introduction as a second-half substitute against Germany in Tuesday’s mammoth Euro 2020 last-16 tie.
Grealish went on to play a role in both goals as England secured a famous 2-0 win and set up Saturday’s quarter-final against Ukraine.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said with a grin. “It’s obviously one of the best feelings ever when they’re calling for your name. It’s weird.
“It’s nice when Villa fans are doing it, but you kind of expect it because you are one of them. But when it’s England fans, it’s different.
“But it’s honestly an unbelievable feeling. I always try and play with a smile on my face because I’m doing what I love.
“But then again, I think if I wasn’t a footballer and I was just with my mates and stuff I would just to be doing what they’re doing. I’d be travelling everywhere watching England, being in pubs and stuff. I’d f****** love it.
“As I’ve grown up with it, that’s probably one of the hardest things that I’ve had to deal with.
“I speak to my family about it all the time and stuff, because when I go out and do stuff and I look at what my friends are doing and that, I’d love to be like that sometimes and just go and do stuff.”
Grealish has learned the hard way about life in the public eye, having found himself under the spotlight for the wrong reasons at times.
“Of course (I’ve learned from my mistakes),” he said. “That’s the only thing you can do. Deep down I am still the Jack when I was young and I will never not be that person.”
Were he not a footballer, Grealish reckons he would be a club promoter in Tenerife or Ibiza – “I would be getting everyone into the club” – rather than a plasterer like his dad Kevin.
But the playmaker compared his approach to football to that of his dad’s to plastering in the sense that they both just do the job they are trained for – a mindset that perhaps explains his special connection with supporters.
“I don’t know,” Grealish said of that adoration. “I’m not too sure. I think it’s purely because of what I am like on the pitch.
“I try and get fans off their seats. I try and attack as much as possible and I think that’s what fans want to see.
“I try and do as much as I can. I know what I am good at. I try and be as positive as possible all the time, no matter who I am coming up against. Whether it’s the lowest-ranked team or the highest.”
The 25-year-old says it is “scary” how good England’s attacking options are and, while “it’s difficult” not to start every match like he does at Villa, he is enjoying working with the Three Lions boss.
Asked how Southgate shows him love, Grealish said with a grin: “Plenty of cuddles. Nah, he’s been perfect with me.
“I see some stuff sometimes about me and Gareth, but we have a great relationship and he does with all the players.
“That’s one thing he does have. He’s a brilliant man-manager and he has all these attacking players that play week in, week out at their clubs.
“He can’t play all six of us. He can’t play everyone. That’s one thing that he’s done really well.
“He’s made people think that they are still involved, he still speaks to everyone on a daily basis.”
Grealish may understand Southgate’s decisions, but he would love to play a part in Saturday’s “tough, tough” quarter-final against Ukraine.
“At the moment I think there’s been so many games that you wouldn’t expect that have gone a different way this Euros so far,” he added.
“And so, honestly, I think people would probably want to beat us because of who we are as well. Well, that’s what I think anyway.”