Grealish represents something of an enigma, misunderstood even.

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He has scored seven goals and delivered six assists this season, three more goal contributions than any other English midfielder. An all-the-more impressive achievement considering the step up from the second-tier of Championship football.

Yet, England manager Gareth Southgate does not regard Grealish as a midfielder. No, Southgate deems Grealish's competition for a spot in the England squad as Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi. Southgate, clearly, regards Grealish as a wide forward.

Southgate: Grealish ‘very close’ to England squad

To be fair the 24-year-old has, for large parts of the season, operated from the left, but Villains boss Dean Smith has largely given his captain freedom to drift in from wide, a free role in many respects, whereby he can operate as an agent of chaos. That freedom has reaped Grealish and Villa rewards. A wide forward, though, he is not.

Such has been his excellence, Pep Guardiola, whose Manchester City faces Grealish in the League Cup final on Sunday, described him as "one of the best players in the league." Before adding:

I am a big fan of him.

Yet, would a perceived maverick and freewheeler of Grealish's nature represent a good fit in Guardiola's choreographed, overly-synchronised brand of football? Well, it was perhaps telling that the Manchester City manager told reporters his club could not afford the Villa captain when asked about potentially signing Grealish.

It is also, perhaps, conspicuous that Grealish has been widely linked with a club as chaotic as Manchester United, who, while historic and wealthy, are by no footballing measure an elite club. Elite clubs have shown little interest in the player - a player's standing within the game can be best measured by the clubs that court them. Grealish, it seems, suffers from the British aversion to mavericks - he is simultaneously overhyped and underappreciated. And therein, perhaps, lies the enigma of Grealish.

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For the player told the club's official website that his favoured position is that of a number eight, or, in other words, a seamless fit in Southgate or Guardiola's preferred formation. Grealish is putting in a career-best season - he has scored more goals this season than in any previous in his career - being played out of his preferred position, a position he has previously stated he hated playing in. Mavericks tend not to sacrifice for the greater good as Grealish has.

And that speaks to a level of maturity that Grealish is rarely given credit for - perhaps a legacy of some youthful indiscretions. Villa Park has represented the perfect environment for Grealish to grow but has also stunted perceptions of the player - three years in the Championship, and out of the spotlight, have allowed dated opinions to fester.

Yet he has been at the club since the age of nine, and has captained them since March 2019, a period that coincided with a club-record 10 wins on the bounce on their way to securing promotion to the Premier League. This season the 24-year-old has, through force of not only talent but also will, dragged this Villa team towards Premier League survival. His captaincy - his effortless leadership - of Villa is something that Grealish has not received enough credit for.

And if Villa are to claim a shock win against Manchester City in Sunday's League Cup final, then Grealish will be central to that. And it will be in no little way due to his talent but also his leadership and maturity. It will require a statement performance. One that should shift the perception of Grealish from overhyped and underappreciated to a fairer reflection of his abilities: a player equally adept at wreaking havoc or leading by example. A mature maverick.

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