Richard Buxton: Villa skipper Jack Grealish deserves an England chance
Southgate should let Villa's inspirational captain prove himself in a Three Lions shirt
Jack Grealish remains unapologetically out of step with modern football.
Aston Villa's talisman is a rare breed, an analogue footballer that stands defiant in the digital age.
The 24-year-old is the epitome of a throwback player. He evokes memories of a time when players were hooked on the thrill of cup competitions and a desire to represent their country.
At a time when his homeland is yearning for a return to past glories, Grealish provided a timely reminder of qualities from a bygone age as Villa booked their place in the League Cup final.
Grealish, who flicked the ball for Matt Targett to open accounts for Villa in the 12th minute, helped to inspire a 2-1 semi-final, second-leg win over Leicester City yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Kelechi Iheanacho levelled from the spot for Leicester, before Villa's Egyptian substitutes Ahmed Elmohamady and Trezeguet combined for the latter's stoppage-time winner, as Villa advanced 3-2 on aggregate.
Gareth Southgate passed up the chance to draft Grealish into England's senior squad for their November fixtures on grounds of "reality".
Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Jadon Sancho were all deemed to be ahead of him in the pecking order.
Barely two months on, however, the England boss is the one in need of a reality check.
Sterling and Sancho continue to flourish but Rashford, their closest challenger, is now sidelined for potentially the next three months by injury while Hudson-Odoi, by his own admission, has found himself "agitated" by a loss of form for Chelsea over recent weeks.
In contrast, Grealish has produced industrious displays to help Villa in their ongoing battle to remain in the EPL and did so again in this last-four encounter against the high-flying Foxes.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
The Villa skipper has led by example with his tally of nine goals and seven assists in all competitions this season.
His talent clearly belongs on the Wembley stage, and not just with his boyhood club.
That in itself poses a selection headache that Southgate simply can no longer ignore ahead of the Three Lions' double header of friendlies with Italy and Denmark at the end of March.
But Pep Guardiola, Villa's potential adversary in the March 1 showpiece, may not thank Grealish for reigniting the romance of the League Cup.
Neither will Juergen Klopp.
Manchester City and Liverpool's respective managers would have found themselves screaming into a vortex amid scenes of delirium that spilled over onto the Villa Park pitch at full-time.
Two European superpowers laying siege to English football's heart might be music to the ears of Brexit enthusiasts but it also highlights the gulf between the game's haves and have-nots.
What one club perceives as an inconvenience, another sees as a lifeline.
Guardiola clearly has short memories of using the competitions he now denigrate as springboards.
Klopp's attempts to revolutionise the domestic game one tournament at a time has seen FA Cup replays become the latest object of his ire.
Before that, he threw the futility of playing League Cup semi-finals over two legs at the mercy of the EPL's big-club connoisseurs.
He is not alone. Guardiola recently advocated that the League Cup be scrapped despite City being reigning holders and on course to retain their crown, before this morning's semi-final, second leg with Manchester United at the Etihad, having held a commanding 3-1 first-leg lead.
Both managers are displaying symptoms of suffering from First World problems.
Casting aside the season's first piece of major silverware to fight for more illustrious trophies is a plight which countless managers throughout the English football pyramid can only dream about.
Villa manager Dean Smith would settle for their 13th visit to Wembley not being an unlucky one.
EPL'S ENGLISH MIDFIELDERS WITH MOST GOAL INVOLVEMENTS THIS SEASON
16: Jack Grealish (9 goals, 7 assists)
12: James Maddison (9 goals, 3 assists)
12: Dele Alli (8 goals, 4 assists)