Tyrone Mings will be forever grateful to Mick McCarthy for giving him his break in professional football, though as a 19-year-old desperate to get noticed he admits he nearly soured his relationship with the Ipswich manager on day one.
Ipswich signed Mings for a modest £10,000 in 2013, plus an agreement to play a friendly against the club he was leaving, Chippenham Town. McCarthy arranged a trial game to watch the defender and after an hour reckoned he had seen enough so brought him off before the end.
Mings was furious, letting McCarthy know exactly what he thought as he made his way off the field. “I didn’t know he had already made up his mind to sign me, I was just mad at not getting a full game,” the Aston Villa centre-back says. “I had played for Chippenham on the Saturday, that trial game was on the Monday and I got a knock on the knee in the second half, so I was probably hobbling around a bit, but no one wants to come off in a trial. I was working full-time back then, it was an effort to fit everything in, and I thought this might be another chance slipping away.”
It turned out otherwise, though there are still a couple of unusual twists in the Mings story. Far from pursuing his footballing dream as an escape from the dreary confines of the factory floor or building site, Mings’s day job back in 2013 was as a mortgage adviser. Not only that, he enjoyed it. “I was very good at it,” he says. “Perhaps better at it than being a footballer. That’s the way I saw my life going, I was putting everything into a career in financial services. I didn’t have a mortgage at the time, but I took qualifications and did a few exams. I was earning good money and working with real people. I was perfectly happy but I knew I had to find out about the football thing or risk being disappointed for the rest of my life.”
Mings is not disappointed now. After playing a part in Villa’s promotion push last year while on loan from Bournemouth and then joining the club permanently for their first season back in the Premier League, he has stepped up to the England squad and is now looking forward to his first cup final, Sunday’s Wembley meeting with Manchester City.
City are seeking to win the tournament for a third time in a row while Villa dropped into the bottom three on Saturday because of others’ results, but Mings is undaunted. “I can’t wait, it will be a welcome distraction from the league,” he says. “We have eight days after the final until we play again so I don’t think it will impact on our league form.
“We are massive underdogs but we have to see that as a challenge, an opportunity to prove we can mix it with the big teams and give a good account of ourselves. On the day you never know what might happen.”
With Villa that is particularly true. Impressive at times this season, unlucky on other occasions and downright woeful at Southampton a week ago, they have struggled for consistency. “Southampton was about as bad as I’ve been involved in, and I’ve been in some bad games,” Mings says.
“The manager didn’t spare our feelings at half-time and we were better in the second half, but that’s not saying a lot. The first half wasn’t a very good yardstick for how we want to play.
“Our inconsistency is the most frustrating thing, it’s almost like we know that we can do it at the top level but we’re not doing it often enough. If we were we wouldn’t be in the situation we are in, but we have a lot of players who are new to the division, playing regularly in the Premier League for the first time, and I include myself in that.
“I’m not offering that as an excuse but it might just be a reason for the inconsistency. I’m not sure many other teams at this level would find themselves with six, seven or eight players all trying to learn on the job. It’s not ideal but we have to learn quickly.”
Villa have played City twice this season and the aggregate score is 9-1 in the cup holders’ favour. City picked up every domestic trophy on offer last season, while Villa have not won any of the major prizes since 1996. “It’s going to be tough, there’s no hiding from that,” Mings says. “But it is still a fantastic opportunity, and we certainly won’t be making the mistake of underestimating our opponents.
“We know we have to bring our A game to Wembley because anything less could lead to embarrassment, perhaps it would be harder playing against someone we might underestimate.
“We know we have to control our performance and our emotions too, because a lot of us are playing in a cup final for the first time. We’ve got a captain [Jack Grealish] who has played in a few, an assistant coach [John Terry] who has played in a hell of a lot, but everyone else has to work out a way to cope with the pressure for themselves. You quickly learn that football is a team sport that is all about individuals.”