Hull City

Greaves: I’ve Improved As A Player And As A Person

09 April 2020
Making the first loan switch of your career can be a daunting prospect for some young players. Out of their comfort zone and thrown into the deep unknown away from their loved ones and friends – it can make or break a career at such a tender age. For Jacob Greaves, however, this has been the smoothest of transitions.

The 19-year-old centre-back penned his first professional deal with the Club in April last year before impressing new Head Coach Grant McCann in pre-season to earn a new long-term deal ahead of joining League Two Cheltenham Town on a temporary basis.

In his time at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium, Greaves has been a virtual ever-present since making his senior debut away at Bristol Rovers in the Carabao Cup back in August, racking up an impressive 35 appearances in all competitions in what has been his first taste of first-team football.

He was named the EFL Young Player of the Month in September, while also collecting the club’s Player of the Month award for December – as voted for by Cheltenham fans – and Greaves believes his loan spell with the Robins has seen him develop both as a player and as a person.

“It’s been massive for me – a completely new experience,” he said. “There’s been a lot of highs, but some lows as well. It’s all about learning from every experience though, not just the positive ones. That’s part and parcel of football.

“Going out and getting some first-team experience and playing regular football so early in my career has been invaluable. Being completely honest, I didn’t have a clue what to expect when I first arrived. I was only 18 and it was all new to me. It was a completely different environment and a league that I had no experience of whatsoever.

“There were no expectations from me – it was just a case of trying to make the most of the opportunity that had been given to me. The first few games allowed me to settle in and get to know what the team was all about and how the gaffer wanted us to play.

“After that, I think I went from strength to strength in my performances. I’ve been happy with my contribution on the pitch in a Cheltenham shirt, but then I’m always striving to be better as well. There are always things you can improve and work on and that will always be my outlook in terms of my development and desire to progress.

“There are a lot of good players in the squad here and it’s a great group of lads that I’m very fortunate to be part of this season. I’ve learnt so much from being in and around a first-team environment for a prolonged period of time.

“Everyone at Cheltenham is a fantastic professional, which has provided me with the opportunity to learn from so many players at different stages of their careers. When you see what the top pros are doing to look after themselves, you want to do it too. I look at the lads here, take little bits from all of them and try to put it into my own game.

“I would advise any young kid starting out in the game to head out on loan. I’ve loved every minute of my time at Cheltenham to-date – the experience has been so beneficial. It’s not just about football though. It’s about developing as a person as well, which is something I think I’ve done an awful lot.

“Don’t get me wrong, it can be tough at times. I’m nearly 200 miles away from my home, my family and I’ve never been away from home before! I’ve had to learn a lot about myself by coming out of my comfort zone and dealing with life on my own. It’s been a learning curve from day one but I feel like I’ve matured personally.

“Thankfully, I got to grips with everything – the cooking, washing up and looking after myself properly – early doors. It’s something I had to do because my mum wasn’t there to do it for me like she would have if I was living at home. I’ve enjoyed the whole experience – not just the football side of it. It’s brought me on as a person as well as a player.”

Greaves has certainly thrived under the detailed tutorship of a former Premier League and Northern Ireland international centre-back in Cheltenham boss Michael Duff, who played alongside the Tigers’ current Head Coach Grant McCann at both club and international level.

“The gaffer has been great. It’s great that I’ve come here with an ex-Premier League centre-back who talks to me about what I need to improve on and what I’m doing well. I like how he works. Everything is done right. He wants everyone’s standards to stay high and if anyone drops below that you’ll know because they won’t be in the team.”

Duff took over the Robins in September 2018 and steered the club away from a relegation battle last term before eventually finishing in 16th place, 16 points away from danger. This term, the Robins have shown massive improvements and are in contention to make a return to the third tier of English football for the first time since 2008/09.

“As soon as I came in, the gaffer highlighted that he thought we had a great chance of achieving something special this season,” Greaves continued. “Playing my part in a team that has challenged at the top end of the table has been good for me.

“I don’t think we’ve faced a team this season that has been better than us really. Obviously, we’ve had off days as every team does, but when that has happened we’ve worked hard and ground out results.

“We’ve not conceded many goals whatsoever and I think we’ve got the best defensive record in the entire EFL, which is a credit to the full team. That solid base gives the team the opportunity to play expansive football going forward.

“We’re currently fifth in the table, five points behind the leaders Crewe with a game in hand. We’re sitting in a lovely position with just ten games to go in the season and we’re determined to get the job done.”

Whether Cheltenham will get the chance to finish the job though remains to be seen following the outbreak of COVID-19. Greaves, like many across the country, is spending the vast majority of his day at home with no competitive football on the agenda for the foreseeable future after the game’s authorities collectively agreed to postpone the professional game in England until it is safe to resume.

Providing an insight into how a professional footballer has found the situation and how he is maintaining his fitness, Greaves added: “It has been different coming away from our regular day-to-day structure. The break has disrupted us – but it’s the same for every team and every player up and down the country. Everyone in the squad has got their individual schedule to be getting on with, so the lads are staying fit and focused.

“I’ve got into a good routine during the break and have been doing the work I’ve been set by the coaching staff both at Cheltenham and Hull. I’m making sure I do everything right. That’s what I’ve done throughout the season and it’s vital that I continue to do so during this enforced break.

“It can be lonely at times when you’re used to training as part of a large group but you just have to get on with it. I know it’s important to do my work in order to ensure I keep myself in the best possible condition so that I’m ready to go if and when the season starts up again.”

The break has also taken Greaves back to his schooldays, having recently completed a homework assignment set by the coaching staff at Cheltenham, which has seen the youngster studying the defensive tactics employed by one of the most impressive teams in the Premier League this term and a Serie A giant.

Greaves explained: “I’ve had to watch videos of Wolves in action and how they play with a back three. I’ve also had to watch footage of how Inter Milan play with a back three as well, which was followed up with a call with the coaching staff to go through my observations, what I’d learnt and the similarity’s in how the two teams played.

“So football hasn’t completely stopped. We’re still learning and everyone is desperate to get back to doing what we all love the most when the time is right. And whenever that time comes, the boys will be ready and raring to go. With the group we have at Cheltenham – players and staff – that is guaranteed.”