As the debut single for a then up-and-coming star in 2011, Ed Sheeran’s ‘The A Team’ seems an appropriate initiation song choice for a young talent who has rapidly become a key member of Cheltenham Town’s senior squad.
Jacob Greaves says he chose the tune for his first away trip “just to be safe”, yet it is the Gloucestershire side who seem a lot more secure with him in their backline.
The 19-year-old, who is on loan from Championship club Hull City until January, has excelled since his arrival in the Cotswolds, helping Cheltenham up to fifth, two points off the summit of League Two.
His performances in September – which saw them win four of their five league games without defeat – have seen him named as the English Football League’s Young Player of the Month.
And the 6ft 3in centre-back appears to be thriving under the detailed tutorship of a former Premier League and Northern Ireland centre-back, in Cheltenham boss Michael Duff.
How Duff’s TV analysis helps Greaves
“It’s great that I’ve come here with a ex-Premier League centre-back who talks to me about what I need to improve on and what I’m doing well,” Greaves told BBC Sport.
“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.
“I spoke to him [when agreeing my loan move] and he told me he’d watched all my games. He spoke to me about what he’d expect from me.
“The next day, I had a meeting with him, he set a TV up, and he went through what he wants from a left-sided centre-half, where I’d be playing. He showed me what he wants.
“To work with someone like him is great and it’s only going to bring me on as a player, learning those little things that a centre-half picks up on.”
Former Cheltenham and Burnley defender Duff took over the Robins in September 2018 and steered the club away from a relegation battle last term towards a 16th-place finish, 16 points clear of danger.
This term, the 41-year-old’s improving side have higher ambitions and have won five of their past seven games in all competitions.
“The gaffer wants promotion and so do all the boys, the boys are hungry for it. But I just want to do as well as I can and we’ll see what happens,” Greaves added.
“I don’t think we’ve played a team yet that’s been better than us, where we should have been beaten easily. We’re more than capable of competing with every team in the league.”
A family with a proud Hull history
Another former Northern Ireland international has also played a key role in Greaves’ recent development, with Hull boss and ex-Cheltenham midfielder Grant McCann including him in the Tigers’ first-team squad for pre-season training after being appointed in June.
“I thought it would just be for a week but I must have done something right, impressed him [McCann], and I played all the games in pre-season,” Greaves said.
“He wanted to get me out on loan instead of playing under-23 football and that’s something I thank him for. The gaffer wanted it to be the right move. He said ‘there are a few clubs interested in you but we want to get you out to Cheltenham’.
“I got in one day and he said ‘I don’t want you to train this morning, just get home, pack your bags and you’ve got a hotel tonight’. It all came about so quickly but it was great to get the loan move sorted.”
Greaves is a product of Hull’s academy and has been with the Tigers since he was eight. Born and raised in the area, he would be proud to represent the city in the future.
“To play for Hull would be a dream. Every Hull lad would love to do that, as your hometown club,” he added.
“But coming here is perfect really. I’d love to stay here but we’ll see what happens in January and hopefully – in the future – I can play for Hull.”
If he does get a chance with Hull’s first team, it would see him follow in the footsteps of his dad, Mark Greaves, who was a key player at the club between 1996 and 2002.
“The person I’ve always looked up to is my dad really, growing up watching him play football at Boston,” Greaves junior continued.
“It would obviously be a great achievement for me and my family to follow him and play for Hull, but there’s no pressure on me to play for Hull, I’m just enjoying my football.”
And while his father Mark may be his key figure of inspiration, Greaves also looks up to another 6ft 3in defender in Manchester City’s Aymeric Laporte.
The Frenchman, like Greaves, is a left-sided centre-half and the Cheltenham youngster enjoys observing the 25-year-old.
“Being left-footed as well, and one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League, watching players like that is how you improve, so I’ll keep watching him, see what he does and try to implement that.”
Whatever Greaves has picked up, it appears to be working as he has cemented a first-team place in his first campaign at senior level, starting every Cheltenham game in all competitions since his debut away to Bristol Rovers in the Carabao Cup on 13 August.
“I’m loving every minute of it,” he added. “[My debut] at Bristol Rovers was different to anything I’d experienced. I was relishing the opportunity, playing a decent League One side in a big stadium as well.
“Some younger lads might go into their shells a little bit but I had my shoulders back and, even though we got beat 3-0, it was a great learning experience for me.
“I started the next Saturday against Morecambe and we got a clean sheet away from home and it started from there.
“I’m delighted to get this award. It’s a great honour. It’s recognition for my performances but also for all the boys at Cheltenham, because we had a great month, going unbeaten and getting some great results.”
And how did that initiation song go down around the trip to the Memorial Stadium?
“I’m not a singer at all,” he added. “I’m not shy but I don’t like doing things like that. It wasn’t the best, I’m not going to lie. But you just get it out the way.”