Tim Sherwood believes Jack Grealish is ready for big stage - Martin O'Neill doesn't
On a day when Jack Grealish proved he is a big-time player rather than a big-time Charlie, Martin O'Neill bluntly stated that the Irish U-21 international is too young to risk against Scotland.
His club manager, Tim Sherwood, has a different viewpoint. Trusting Grealish to handle the pressure of yesterday's FA Cup semi-final, Sherwood's faith was justified by the teenager's performance as he provided the assist for Aston Villa's winning goal in their 2-1 victory over Liverpool.
"He could be right up there among the best of them," Sherwood said. "The ball is a friend of his. The bigger the stage, the better Jack Grealish plays. I've known about him for a long time.
"He is a local boy and just wants to play for Aston Villa and I want to give him the platform to do that because he has earned the right."
Yet Grealish has to do an awful lot more to convince O'Neill he deserves a platform at international level. Aside from his prolonged decision about whether to declare for Ireland or England, O'Neill simply does not believe Grealish (below) is mature enough to feature in Ireland's key European Championship qualifier against Scotland this June.
"It's not that Jack lacks confidence," said O'Neill. "He is full of self-belief. But he's a young lad and to put him into a massive game like that would be wrong.
"Even to apply pressure on someone to come in to the squad because he thinks then that he might play in the game would be something I would be hesitant to do.
"I'm not so sure I'd be ready for that, ready to put that type of pressure on some young kid just because he made his mind up to play for us.
"The game's too big. He has to play regularly at club level first, for his own peace of mind as much as anything.
"This time last year, when I was having conversations with him and his father, I bet you he probably thought he was going to start between 15 and 22 games for Villa. And you know what? He hasn't.
"He's a very fine player and it would be great if did come on board with us but I'm not going to change my mind on my stance. And to throw him into a game like that there would be tough.
"It's simply too early for him. This is a massive game and there will be guys six, seven, eight years older than him who will be nervous going into the Scotland game."
But while O'Neill is reluctant to sell Grealish the dream of featuring in the remainder of Ireland's Euro campaign, he did admit he would have handed him his international debut by now, had Grealish made himself available for selection.
"I've been involved close to 18 months now, if he was available to us he would have quite surely. . . regardless of not getting starts at Aston Villa, we'd have had enough friendly games that he would have had an opportunity to make an impact at senior level, if he'd been with us from the start," he said.
Grealish has been with Villa from day one in his career and yesterday made just his fifth start for the club. Yet he handled the pressure and created the winning goal for Fabian Delph.
"It's a great feeling," Grealish said. "To be going to Wembley with the team I supported all my life, it's brilliant. I just have to thank my manager (Sherwood). He has showed faith in me."
Yesterday it was repaid. Yet there is a major doubt hanging over his future, largely explained by the fact England have courted him.
As he ponders his next move and as O'Neill sticks to his policy of waiting for Grealish to make the call, Stephen Hunt yesterday weighed into the argument, suggesting the midfielder should act swiftly.
"If he does finally end up in a senior squad I would give him one bit of advice: study what Stephen Ireland did and do the opposite," said Hunt in his Sunday Independent column.
"Stephen Ireland wasn't unpopular when he was in the Ireland squad but when he left it and the stories swirled around about why he might have left, it became tiresome and as far as the players in the squad were concerned, so did he.
"Grealish is far from this stage. He's had his exile before he has actually become a squad member but there is a danger that it would be difficult if that process goes on much longer.
"I don't think everything that has happened with Grealish is entirely his fault. I think the FAI have been too eager to cap players in order to stop them playing for other countries and Grealish may well be in demand, although maybe not as in demand as he would have expected at the start of the season."