Jack Grealish gave everything but his opportunity to lift a trophy with his boyhood club has gone up in smoke… and soon Aston Villa’s best player has to make a decision about his future
- Manchester City won the Carabao Cup final against Aston Villa 2-1 on Sunday
- Jack Grealish had to be helped up by his manager after giving everything
- He will soon have to make a decision about his future with many clubs interested
Jack Grealish rolled back onto the Wembley turf and there he remained. John Stones came over to console him and, one by one, his Aston Villa teammates tried to pick him up, but their captain stayed down.
Grealish had ended the Carabao Cup Final with cramp in his calf, barely able to get up off the floor for a few seconds before Lee Mason blew the final whistle and he was down again.
He was spent. Physically, he had given everything even if this wasn’t his finest hour. Emotionally, it was dawning on him that an opportunity to lift a major trophy for his boyhood club had just gone up in smoke.
Dean Smith had to help Jack Grealish up after he gave everything in the Carabao Cup final
Aston Villa fell short at the final hurdle as Manchester City won the league cup with a 2-1 win
What a difference from last May when he guzzled champagne here after leading Villa to victory in the Championship Playoff Final against Derby County.
Only when manager Dean Smith helped him up did Grealish join a team huddle before peeling away looking utterly crestfallen.
Moments like this don’t come along very often – not for clubs like Villa anyway – and Grealish knows it.
In the 24 years since they last lifted the League Cup, Villa have been to Wembley twice in this competition twice and lost to Manchester United and now Manchester City.
Grealish is Aston Villa’s best player, and is on the cusp of making the England squad
It has been a similar story in the FA Cup since they last won it in 1957. Two trips to Wembley, two defeats – to Chelsea and Arsenal.
So history tells us it could be a while before we see this grand old club back on the big stage competing for a major domestic trophy again.
Football, like any sport, only gives you so many big opportunities. Unless, of course, you’re City in which case Wembley trips seem to be a permanent fixture in the calendar these days.
For the rest, though, there are only so many chances in a relatively short playing career to make an indelible mark; only so many trophies and so many finals like this one.
And only Grealish could tell us if that thought is occupying his mind after Villa’s valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to break City’s hold on the Carabao Cup.
He is Villa’s captain, talisman and best player. He is fiercely loyal to the club. But he is also 24, approaching the peak years of his career and on the cusp of the England squad.
At some stage over the next few months he is likely to have to make a big decision about his future if Manchester United and several other top clubs follow up their interest in him.
At some stage Grealish will have to make a decision about his future with clubs interested
Even more so if Villa lose their battle to stay in the Premier League. As Smith acknowledged in the build-up to this game, that will have a bigger bearing on Grealish’s situation than a one-off cup final.
Still, we shouldn’t underestimate just how much this occasion meant to him.
‘If I could get my hands on that trophy it would be a dream come true,’ he said beforehand. ‘I know what I want to do in my career: play for Aston Villa, play for England and win trophies.’
Villa failed to take their big opportunity at Wembley and now Grealish must decide whether to take his if it comes along this summer.
He certainly has the ability and charisma to make the step up. You only have to look at the difference Bruno Fernandes has made to United over the past month, and Grealish has a similar potential.
Bruno Fernandes has made a difference at Man United and Grealish has similar potential
Unfortunately for Villa, it wasn’t enough to upset City here. He certainly isn’t the first star player to be eclipsed by Pep Guardiola’s side.
Socks around his shins in trademark fashion, Grealish stood over every set-piece and roamed around the pitch trying to lift his team after their bright start faded and City swept into a two-goal lead.
He was involved in the second goal when his lunging tackle on Ilkay Gundogan should have resulted in a Villa goal kick. Instead, City won a corner and Rodri headed home.
At that stage, you feared Villa could be heading for the kind of 6-0 hammering meted out to Watford by City in last season’s FA Cup Final.
Grealish will fight tooth and nail for his boyhood club, but will he soon be on the way out?
Full credit to them for fighting back and replying before half-time. Grealish started the move that led to Stones falling on his backside and Mbwana Samatta heading past Claudio Bravo.
But for Bravo’s reflexes and the width of a post, Bjorn Engels’ late header would have taken it to extra-time.
So Villa return to the sobering reality of a relegation battle. Other results this weekend have left them second from bottom of the table with 11 games to save themselves from dropping straight back into the Championship.
Grealish will fight tooth and nail to keep them up. Then he faces a conflict of a different kind.
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