Surreal is the first word that springs to mind when Tyrone Mings is asked about Aston Villa’s 7-2 extraordinary win over Liverpool.
‘When the fourth, the fifth, the sixth goals are going in, I’m thinking “what on earth is going on?”,’ the England defender tells Metro. ‘It was a day when they weren’t quite at it and we really were. We were firing on all cylinders. We had a gameplan to exploit their apparent “weaknesses” and everything came together.’
The Villans’ thumping of the reigning Premier League champions earlier this month got the whole country talking and even put Tottenham’s 6-1 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford earlier that day in the shade.
Starting the season with four straight wins and second in the table ahead of the visit of newly promoted Leeds to Villa Park tonight, Dean Smith’s men seem to have put last term’s battle to stay up firmly behind them.
Villa only secured safety on the final day after a slog of a campaign. Less claret, they were more blue. Now, they are anything but and that has a lot to do with the influence of captain Jack Grealish, the addition of £28million striker Ollie Watkins and the leadership of Mings.
The former Bournemouth defender, who joined Villa on loan in January 2019, before a permanent deal last July, has struck up a great rapport with Grealish and both played for England in the recent international break.
Mings says of his relationship with Villa’s playmaker: ‘We get closer with each passing week. We’ve been through so much together since I first came on loan to Villa.
‘He probably wouldn’t admit it but he would have sat at home when I got my England call-up, thinking, “that should be me, that should be me” but he’s quite rightly got his own call-up now and made his debut.
‘He’s a fantastic player and you only really appreciate it when you play alongside him in training. His ability to slow things down and bring others into the game shouldn’t be overlooked.’
Mings’ fellow England centre-back Conor Coady, of Wolves, could be heard louder than most during the three games at Wembley this month but admitted there is only one player who out-shouts him and that is Mings.
‘My voice is probably a bit deeper and a bit louder and probably gets heard a bit louder but we’re both organisers,’ the Villa man says with a smile. ‘I don’t see it as battling. Conor’s such a great lad and I feel I’ve known him for years after the time we’ve spent together in these England camps.
‘We’re both playing in the west Midlands, both raised as centre-backs, so people would anticipate a rivalry there but we spend as much time together with England as anyone and he’s someone of a similar age who I look up to in how he organises teams. Just look at the influence he has over that Wolves team and you can have nothing but admiration.’
Just as important to Mings as being heard on the pitch is having a say off it. He has become a voice for mental health awareness as well as attending a Black Lives Matter march in June. The 27-year-old did not have a privileged upbringing and spent time in a homeless shelter as a child with mum Dawn and his three sisters. He still visits homeless people and loves giving back to the community now he is a successful international footballer.
He particularly appreciates England colleague Marcus Rashford’s work to combat food poverty. ‘Look at Marcus, who’s used his voice and platform for such an amazing cause and has got recognition, and rightly so, for doing great work,’ he says.
‘I speak about mental health because I’ve suffered at various times. Not everybody is as lucky as I am – some people are in very unsavoury situations. It’s important people know mental health is not something you conquer, it’s not something you have and then don’t have. It can creep up again. Sometimes you can’t make sense of your feelings and talking works for me.’
Mings admits he can be ‘old-school’ in his way of solving problems but it is clear he sees himself as a leader. ‘Above anything else, I love to win. If that comes at any cost, then so be it,’ he reveals, explaining his mentality.
‘If we can try and create a successful dressing room at Villa and powerful culture, and one that is quite tight-knit and almost like a brotherhood, that is the best chance we have of success. We’re getting there. It doesn’t make too much difference to me if I upset anyone on the way [to doing that] if it’s in a good cause. Time waits for no man and the responsibility I have is one I enjoy.’
Mings came up the hard way. No academies for him – he worked as a barman and a mortgage adviser while playing in non-league for Chippenham and Yate. But he insists it is not just highly paid footballers who should have a voice.
‘Everybody should have the ability to do that,’ he insists. ‘I worked in an office before and in the most successful teams there, the door was always open and there was always an open discussion. We are living in an ever-changing society where it is easier to have an opinion. How you deliver that and what you do with that is more important.
‘I’m quite big on talking about mental health and you have to pick and choose what you get involved in because ultimately I’m a footballer.’
‘Look at the different ethnic backgrounds, languages, cultures they’ve got, and you use them as a reference for this country as to what success looks like in the Premier League and Champions League,’ the centre-half explains.
‘Not having a team full of people that are all the same is a challenge to overcome in itself. Football is so diverse in its ethnic make-up and also now in its types of people in the dressing room.
If you’d thrown some people into dressing rooms in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, you wouldn’t have got the best out of them.’
And in that extraordinary result, did Villa find their own route to success? Mings answers: ‘Beating Liverpool brings you three points, just as it does beating Fulham and Sheffield United, but as a statement and confidence-builder for us it was important.
‘Great teams go and back up those results so we’ll see how important and how good a result it was.’
Why have things changed so suddenly for Villa, though? Mings thinks he knows the reason. ‘Staying up and how the last day of the season went shouldn’t be underestimated,’ he says. ‘It was so important. The owners have big plans and getting relegated wasn’t in that.’
With that, it is time for Mings to head off but there is no doubt he is one of the most engaging, interesting, forward-thinking players of the current generation.
‘Long live the fairytale, let’s target the top ten,’ is Mings’ sign-off, and those with a claret-and-blue persuasion would undoubtedly agree.