Battle for Jack Grealish loyalty hotting up
Southgate interest intensifies after Cup heroics
Jack Grealish is at the centre of an intensifying tug of war between England and the Republic of Ireland but will give himself until August before making a final decision about his international future.
The Aston Villa teenager was born and brought up in Solihull but his father is from Dublin and he has already played for various Republic of Ireland age-group teams.
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill had already hoped to integrate him with the senior team but Grealish is also wanted by the English Football Association and will turn down any invitation to play for either nation when the two teams meet in Dublin on June 7.
Grealish starred in Aston Villa's FA Cup semi-final win against Liverpool on Sunday and, conscious of the advances from both countries, wants to take his time over the decision.
He is well aware that the choice he makes now will be final and will listen carefully to his family and the representatives of both the Republic of Ireland and England before coming to his decision.
Tim Sherwood, the Villa manager, is also likely to be a big influence and, even in the space of a few weeks, has clearly had a considerable impact on the 19-year-old's development.
Gareth Southgate, the England U-21s manager, has visited Aston Villa's Bodymoor Heath training ground in recent months and his interest has also been communicated to the player's family.
Ireland also still remain extremely hopeful but, given the sensitivity of the situation, O'Neill is unlikely to put added pressure on Grealish by including him in his senior squad for the June matches.
After playing England, Ireland face Scotland in a crucial Euro 2016 qualifier. Grealish could theoretically face England in a friendly and still switch his allegiance because a player is only committed to a particular country once he has figured in a competitive match.
Grealish, though, just wants to get his decision right and his focus will be on where he might play his senior international football rather than any considerations relating to the opportunities for the U-21 teams.
The English FA tries to be proactive in these situations and Grealish has been on its radar for a number of years. Indeed, it invited him to play in the England U-17s team when he was 15 in 2011 but he has so far always stayed with Ireland.
Grealish also worked under Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane at Aston Villa but stepped out of the Ireland U-21 set-up earlier in the season and also refused an offer to train with O'Neill's senior squad while he considers his future.
He was named Ireland U-21 player of the year last month, despite having played for them only twice.
"It's always a joy to come here and put the green jersey on," Grealish said at the time. "Hopefully I'll be back in the green jersey. It's a big decision which country I'm going to play for, it's an honour to have that decision, but at the moment I'm just concentrating on my club football and hopefully in September I'll be back playing for Ireland."
Both O'Neill and Keane have spoken to the player and his family in an attempt to persuade him to play for Ireland. Former Villa midfielder Lee Hendrie, however, believes that Grealish will opt for England provided that he is given a clear signal that he would be part of manager Roy Hodgson's plans.
"We want to try to bring as many young English players through as possible and, if we miss the boat with Jack, it is a crying shame," Hendrie said. "I personally think he might jump across and play for England.
"I know he has played at the lower levels for Ireland but I think he would jump across if he was considered to be a key figure for them (England). And, looking at his talent, he should have every chance."
Grealish, who plays as a winger or an attacking midfielder, has especially thrived since Sherwood became Villa manager. "He's given me a great load of belief, and I hope I can continue that to the end of the season," he said.
Grealish's playing style has been likened by Bryan Jones, Aston Villa's former academy director, to that of the Nottingham Forest legend John Robertson for his "ability to just ghost past people".
Ireland are also monitoring Chelsea striker Patrick Bamford, who has blossomed on a season's loan at Middlesbrough. Bamford, 21, who has scored 19 goals for the Championship promotion chasers, has played for the England U-21s but qualifies for Ireland through his grandparents.
O'Neill also tried and failed to get Harry Kane, the Tottenham Hotspur striker, to commit his international future to Ireland a year ago when the player was struggling to get in the Spurs side. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Young Villa star - by those who know him best
(Former Notts County manager)
"We inherited Jack when we came in at County and didn't know much about him. But he scored a goal against Gillingham that made us realise we were dealing with a very special talent.
"It was his first goal in professional football, he dropped his shoulder about three or four times and ended up smashing the ball into the top corner.
"He's a throwback player who didn't really take any interest in training, it was all about playing off the cuff, and he's almost like a street footballer."
(Villa and Ireland)
"I am old enough to be his dad! The last couple of Premier League games I have said to him, 'Jack, just go and enjoy it. It is a great place to play football but just do your own thing. Enjoy the game and that is when you flourish'.
"I think Jack did that on Sunday in the semi-final. We hope he does commit to Ireland, and I think he should really be involved in the first team squad at the minute. He's a young guy and you don't want to rush him into these decisions. In an ideal world we'd love him with us."
(Former Villa manager)
"Jack was on the bench against Chelsea at the age of 16 and was only a kid. From the start of that season I'd seen him grow about three inches! At the end of the day if you are good enough, you're old enough, and it doesn't matter about the age."
"He was only 18 when he went away to Notts County on loan and he was still a baby. It's amazing when you don't see them for a few months. He came back at Christmas and I thought, 'Wow!' He'd suddenly filled out. He went away a little boy and he came back a man.
"I took him to the Hong Kong Sevens last year and he was unbelievable - as an ambassador and as a player. He took a Down Syndrome lad into the dressing room for photos and to meet the other players. It was a great touch - and there was nothing false about it, it was a genuine move."