The Discourse Around Tyrone Mings
There’s no denying Tyrone Mings has been one of our best players since he signed from Bournemouth in 2018. His height, combative nature and physical assets, paired with his left foot make him one of the leagues truly unique defenders and this has been shown by his England performances. His rewarding of the captaincy after Grealish left for City this summer has only further consolidated his value to us.
We’re really pleased to have Tyrone back at Aston Villa on a permanent basis, I think everybody could see the connection that he made with the club as a whole. He will be an integral part of the squad for the new season and I look forward to working with him and helping to further develop his game.”Dean Smith on signing Tyrone Mings, 2019.
Now I said he’s unique for a reason, and there’s something to understand about his career to date. So we all know Mings had a serious knee injury which curtailed his career early on so I’ll use a similar player who has had a relatively difficult injury track record, who then made the jump to a “bigger club.” Former Manchester United man Chris Smalling is 2/3 years older than Mings and he’s someone who has had a similar trajectory from non-league to a respectable club to a “bigger club”. Chris Smalling had made 345 career club appearances at 28, with 195 coming in the premier league. He had had a lot of top-flight experience. Tyrone Mings has made 193 appearances, with 99 of those coming in the premier league. That’s quite the disparity for somebody our backline relies on to be the leader and experienced member of a defensive unit. People talk about Hause deputising for him as inexperienced and level similar to Konsa alongside him, marking him rightly so as one for the future along with the newly signed Tuanzebe.
Now here’s the interesting thing. Kortney Hause has 180 career appearances at 26, only 13 less than Mings. His premier league experience is very different, however, only playing 36 games compared to Mings’ 99. Nearly triple the amount of playing time and I think that does show.; Mings is quite clearly the superior CB to Hause, save for maybe pace and aerial aggression. Ezri Konsa however has more domestic appearances than Mings does: 203 to 193. Konsa has 64 premier league appearances to Mings’ 99…so as you can see in our partnership Mings is deemed the experienced CB, while Konsa is for the future but at 23 there’s a 5-year gap between him and Mings, which unfortunately just doesn’t show and is in fact amplified due to Mings being the perceived senior man. I think this is the thing our fans need to understand. Mings isn’t an experienced defender he is by age but that doesn’t mean anything in football. There are just two years between Arsenal’s Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe, who are both fantastic creative talents. But watch them play and tell me which one made their first-team debut at 15 and now captains his country. For me, football is all about instincts and impact. Look at how Ruben Dias consolidated Man City’s backline at 24, with 247 career appearances his experiences at that age allowed him to do that.
At 24, Mings had just 99 footballing appearances. This is why I say he isn’t an experienced defender, his footballing experience is that of someone who is around the age of Ezri’s and that because of his age and role for the club he isn’t going to change his instinctual game until his physical attributes decline and force him to do so. I think that’s a bit of a common misconception around footballers in terms of improving, you can adapt but it’s very rarely their instincts change once they’re “established” in their position. Matt Targett was 24 when he signed with us and was just on the cusp of that. He’s someone who wasn’t the best in his first season, but you could see he had something. Then before the 2020/21 season, he came back a lot fitter and match ready for the season and he had a great turn at LB. But we’ve seen already especially against Watford this season that the things that held him back in the 2019/20 season are still there. Those things are what I refer to as a player’s instincts.
A good example is Thiago Silva. Undoubtedly one of the leading defenders of the last decade who had absolutely everything, but all you need to look at is his performance against us. He dropped off, made himself the space and was always in the right place at the right time, half because his reading of the game has always been superb (just ask Darren Bent) and half because he isn’t as mobile as he once was. I can only really remember one bad game he had, which I believe was his debut game against our neighbours from the midlands West Brom. His block against Watkins was immense and his reading of play around him meant that Ings was completely out of the game, while Watkins found joy against Chalobah. Now as much as this is him adapting because his legs aren’t what they used to be, it’s also hugely down to his style of play and his defending instincts.
“He is an animal. I have played against Thiago Silva before. He is an animal. I think I touched the ball three times. He is a leader, he is powerful, he is strong, he reads the game really, really well.”Darren Bent on his experiences playing against Thiago Silva, via talksport (2020.)
For two of our goals, Mings showed his inexperience. Tuanzebe (also very inexperienced) gave him a bad ball to which he let it run across him and underhit the back pass to Steer (also inexperienced) who also could’ve helped the situation by being a bit more on the front foot (unlike Emi who is naturally an aggressive keeper). I’d like to think a more experienced CB doesn’t attempt that pass first time, they either take it back toward goal on the stretch, struggle and use their strength to tussle with the defender and get it back to the keeper or they just boot the ball in the direction they’re facing with as much force as possible. That situation is easier for a right-footed player, as their instinct is away from goal in that situation, had it happened on the other side of the pitch in the RCB area, Mings probably would’ve dealt with it. For the second, he let Azpilicueta ghost him like he wasn’t even thereby not committing and not maintaining his position thus taking himself out of the game, he looked a bit like an LB turned CB at that moment.
When we got promoted to the premier league one of the players I wanted us to sign was Gary Cahill because I always felt he was a player with genuine top-level experience that could’ve helped guide both Mings and Konsa in their respective developments. Konsa has developed beautifully with game time and Mings at 25/26 was still on that cusp.
Now obviously there’s an elephant in the room, Mings not only plays for but also excels for England. But there’s a very good reason for that and that is partly because 1) He’s a fantastic defender 2) When he plays for England, he isn’t the main man at the back. He’s surrounded by players with a lot more experience than him. Whether it’s Shaw or Trippier on the left. Or if he’s played in a three alongside Walker and Stones, he is allowed to excel at what he is normally so good at, with less responsibility. When he got dropped for Maguire, who had returned from injury, it was extremely hard on him because he’d done so well for England, never putting a foot wrong throughout the tournament. But the difference Maguire made to England in that LCB role was huge. Harry Maguire also 28 (444 career apps, 177 pl apps), is a world-class defender who also adds creativity from the back with his driving runs out of the defence and his range of passing. Something that Mings doesn’t bring to England and doesn’t do for us either in the PL. Nevertheless, he is a talented defender who deserved to be in the England team as he’s valuable, as he is unique as a rare natural left-sided CB that’s both English and good enough to operate at this level. I also do think it’s fair to say, when he did get his England call-up it was a bit of a surprise to see him in the mix-up before Grealish and Konsa.
Mings is a leader, and that’s pretty apparent. Southgate himself said that one of the reasons he brought Mings into the fold was because he was talkative and an organiser:
Since I have been watching him for the past 12 months or so, he’s displayed outstanding leadership qualities. I thought I would see that [against Bulgaria] and I did. He’s an impressive young man. We presented him with his shirt [before the game] and the point I made was that everybody’s journey to becoming an England international is different, but his is very different to most of the boys who have just been in an academy system.Gareth Southgate on Mings, 2020
But being a leader and being experienced aren’t mutually exclusive and even sometimes being Captain doesn’t back it up either. England’s Captain is the star man, not necessarily the leader. We all know Harry Kane has a wealth of experience at the top level, but he doesn’t strike you as a leader (though what do we know but the Amazon doc gave us an insight) in the same way Jordan Henderson does. “Leaders” can be inexperienced, just look at De Ligt captaining Ajax at 18 or Tony Adams becoming Arsenal club captain at 21. Tyrone Mings is undoubtedly a great defender some of his best bits are embedded below. But he is prone to lapses in concentration which normally lead to a goal. I recently saw on Twitter that nobody has committed more defensive errors than Mings since the 2019/20 season. The thing to accept is that a defender who makes these instinctual mistakes doesn’t really go on to cut them out of their game and especially not at 28 but a defender making a mistake isn’t the end of the world. It’s just highlighted a lot more. John Stones had a remontada of sorts this year but he still makes them. It’s very rare past 24 for players to change their style of play let alone what they do without thinking. Arsenal’s Ben White for example isn’t suddenly going to become a monster in the air. The same way Michael Keane isn’t now going to become a domineering ball-playing defender and so on and so forth.
I’d compare Mings to David Luiz who 75% of the time was undoubtedly a fine ball-playing central defender, but who like Mings was prone to a mistake or a lapse in concentration and it happened very early on and very consistently over his career. But because of what they bring to the squad you overlook the mistakes they will undoubtedly make. They’re both leaders and both very likeable. We can look to mistakes against Brighton, Arsenal, Norwich, Man City and Fulham last year, as well as the Chelsea game today, a little bit of a search and I recall the near-miss against Newcastle’s Callum Wilson also this season. Now I’m not gonna sit here and say the best defenders don’t make mistakes. They all do, I’m just looking at whether it’s a one-off or a trend. For me it’s clear to see he has a big mistake in him that happens 4-5 times a season; it’s fair to say there’s a bit of a trend. These trends/occurrences can be both positive and negative and are completely unique to a player; it’s the same way Cavani follows in rebounds into the box whereas Martial wouldn’t or how even Jorginho coming on to replace Saul changed the game for Chelsea. Saul likes to hold onto the ball, Jorginho treats the ball like a hot potato, a man schooled in SarriBall. But yesterday after watching us press Saul, Tuchel’s decision to bring on Jorginho who likes to keep the ball in motion with one-touch passes effectively killed a big part of our game, which then forced us to take off the ever-impressive Jacob Ramsey, drop Mcginn deeper and change tactic. A footballers instincts never change.
Let’s talk blocks. I keep seeing this blocks stats used to support claims one defender is better than another. I’d like to say in my opinion (which doesn’t mean anything but you chose to read this) for a central defender, a high number of blocks is not indicative of whether or not that defender is a “good defender.” We know the effect of being in a bigger team against being in a smaller team does skew certain stats. For example, Virgil Van Dijk the premier league standout performer in 2019/2020, made just 15 blocks. Whereas Mings in his best season during the 2020/2021 season clocked 40 blocks. Stats are important to a certain degree but an eye test will tell you that Van Dijk is undoubtedly the best central defender in the league despite “underperforming” against our number 5 during their best seasons to date in that metric. Mings is 100% in the mix as one of the finest in the league though the stats might suggest he is on paper more “productive” than the elite centre backs. The stat to look to is Van Dijk’s 15 clean sheets in 19/20, to Mings’ 14 clean sheets in 20/21. Which shows what a defensive leader he can be. Though a lot of praise must also go to Targett Cash, Konsa and Emi Martinez, who for me was the standout keeper last year making 142 saves conceding 46 while averaging 4 saves per match. Compare this to Liverpool’s Alisson who made 58 saves, conceding 23 and averaged 2 saves per match.
Tyrone Mings is a great man and he deserves every bit of success that he gets, but we are allowed to criticise performances the same way we are allowed to praise, it’s good for the game and it provides a healthy discourse when done correctly and without hate. Nothing in this article has been negative, or hurtful; I don’t believe in abuse or name-calling and as much as I have had my gripes with his on-field mistakes (if you have Twitter, search my handle and Mings, you’ll see) I’d never abuse the guy via social media or in any form because at the end of the day he’s just trying to do his job, for a team I love and whenever he’s 100% on it we are certainly a lot better defensively. We all have our favourites; I love Bertrand Traore and am very protective of him. But when players make mistakes frequently, and we are vocal we need to be fair and do it from a place of love. Players being able to learn and take these opinions (with a pinch of salt) is a part of the game.
We also can’t be a club that lives off what a player has “done for the club”. Elphick and Chester were huge for us, but there comes a time where we set our standards and we want those players to meet them to help us achieve our goals. Mings is such a big character and such a big influence on our side that it filters through when he isn’t on top form to the team, that’s how influential I believe him to be. The great thing is, the likelihood of him leaving is slim to none, so there’s a real opportunity for a fantastic pairing between him and Konsa which already has very deep foundations. He doesn’t strike me as a sideways stepper, as he’s already a full international and every team we deem ahead of us, has LCB’s either on par with him or greater. I also believe the money needed to part with another captain wouldn’t be worth it for the buying club. This year will be a tough year, we don’t know what to expect but it will be a whole lot better for us all if he can stay solid for the rest of the season and continue to be a central piece of or puzzle.
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