I first made the trip to Villa Park to see an already relegated Sunderland succumb to a late Marcus Allback goal in 2003, and whilst blissfully unaware at the time, for much of the almost 18 years that have elapsed one question has regularly served to bemuse me.
It is a concern which has been amplified immeasurably by the introduction of social media and the instant reaction which consequently occurs upon the final whistle, and possibly has its foundations in phone-in shows led by pundits stirring up controversy for interaction purposes. Certain fan channels, thankfully none of the claret and blue persuasion, have taken on the mantle with damaging repercussions. The question, you may be unsurprised to learn, is just why does there always have to be a scapegoat, a fall guy, an individual to pin the blame on when there are ten others on the pitch?
Unfortunately, Villa fans are not wholly exempt from this. Whilst, of course, no player is above criticism, even in hugely successful sides one defeat or even one individual error seems to see certain players thrown under the bus. Ashley Westwood, Barry Bannan, Glen Whelan and Micah Richards have all taken disproportional stick in recent years when they were certainly not the only underperformers in their setups.
Even in this current squad, the most likeable, hard-working and skilful side we have assembled in a decade, a handful of players seem to get blamed when the team experiences minor turbulence. At the start of the season Anwar El Ghazi and the recently departed Henri Lansbury took a sabbatical from social media after fielding a barrage of displeasure and abuse following a League Cup defeat to Stoke City.
Another player this year who has come under seemingly excessive scrutiny is Tyrone Mings. Whilst the level of hate occasionally directed towards the defender is unacceptable at any rate, it is particularly unsavoury as he is a huge presence both on and off the field in a dazzling squad. As has previously been mentioned, no player is above criticism, and every fan of course has their favourites and players they do not rate, but the need for a scapegoat in a season such as this is puzzling.
Our defeats this season, save a second-half capitulation against Leeds, have been defiant performances littered as much with unfortunate circumstances as with individual mistakes. In fact Tyrone Mings is one such defender who, according to WhoScored has not made an error that has directly led to an opposition goal, something which cannot be said about fellow England hopefuls Conor Coady and Harry Maguire, two very fine defenders in anyone’s books.
We signed Mings in 2019 when an injury lay-off and the form of other defenders had pushed the left-footer down the pecking order at Bournemouth. Since then, Mings has made seven international appearances, achieved promotion following a record-shattering 10 game winning streak, played in a cup final, helped the team stay up and this season been an integral component in one of the finest defences in the division with nine clean sheets to his name.
In terms of numbers, his stats show exactly what he brings to the Villa and even England backline. He has been dribbled past at a rate of 0.2 times per game, which makes him harder to round than Coady (0.5), Maguire (0.3), Michael Keane (0.3) and Eric Dier (0.3). He is only marginally behind the impressive John Stones (0.1) on this measurement. His clearances, at 4.5 per game and blocks, at 0.9 per game also stack up favourably in similar comparisons as Mings acts as a strong layer of protection in an immeasurably improved Villa back five. Of the aforementioned internationals, only Keane and Dier better his clearances per game, whilst only Coady can match Mings’ blocks.
As well as this, his ability to create havoc in the opposition box, with his sizeable frame and almost unrivalled desire to meet a cross, leading to his two goals and one assist this season, and two goals and two assists in 2019/2020. Our big man at the back also offers something which many top defenders do not, as his stronger foot is his left. This offers balance to the Villa defence when he is paired with Ezri Konsa and is a big factor in Gareth Southgate’s squad selection dilemma, as Mings would be an obvious choice on the left if a back three was preferred, as it often has been in recent years.
Whilst of course there are stats that see each of these English hopefuls ahead of Mings, the point is that he does not look out of place when compared to England’s very finest defensive options. He may not be at the very head of the pack, but he is keeping impressive company. The only column which sees Mings significantly trail his counterparts is his pass accuracy, although it is possible that this can be explained somewhat by Villa’s direct style which requires distributing the ball to Grealish, Barkley and the other likely lads up top with as little disruption as possible. Thus defenders such as Mings and Konsa are asked to play riskier forward passes in comparison to the methodical, chess-like approaches of many Premier League rivals.
In house comparisons have been increasingly fashionable in B6, with fans regularly pitting Konsa and Mings against each other. “Konsa is clear,” tweet some accounts, “Mings would never,” tweet others. For me, I implore fans to appreciate what is a coherent, reliable and passionate partnership, the like we have not seen since Messrs Laursen and Mellberg. The current duo are working their way towards the iconic status of the Scandinavian stoppers. They complement each other perfectly, Mings is the taller leader type who often wins the ball at the first point of contact, whilst Konsa is quicker along the ground and perhaps a better ball player, whilst they both constantly put their head were many would not park their motor in order to maintain their clean sheet. It is more than okay to prefer one over the other yet acknowledge the different, but equally important attributes the pair bring to the party.
Whilst stats alone can be used to highlight the importance of Tyrone Mings, the intangible factors are just as crucial. He is a positive role model away from the pitch, happy to help fans out at the drop of a hat, whilst his philanthropic activities in the community also show the measure of the man. He is also part of a burgeoning group of young socially aware athletes who speak out for those who need a voice and fight ferociously for causes close to their hearts.
Dean Smith revealed his final words to the side before the lads took the field for the day of redemption at Wembley against Derby were “Be a good teammate,” and Tyrone Mings embodies this message. He is an irreplaceable part of the infamous Villa leadership group, and rushed to the defence of the previously abused El Ghazi as he secured a derby victory over Wolves, telling his critics to make “your apology as loud as your disrespect.” A popular figure in the dressing room, it is difficult to envisage the recent upturn in fortunes at Villa Park without Mings at the heart of it all.
Whilst of course the disrespect and occasional abuse Tyrone Mings receives is from an absolute minority of ‘fans’, the last fortnight has shown that the minority can cause a lot of damage. Criticism of players’ mistakes and performances of course is justified, but this can escalate into vile abuse from faceless accounts that let their hatred cloud their view of the bigger picture. It is perhaps time then, that fans appreciated quite what we have in Tyrone Mings; a general, a role model and an excellent centre-half. There certainly is no need for scapegoats this year. For the first time in a long while we are looking up not down and every game win, lose or draw, the boys on the field are entertaining us and playing with the pride of that Rampant Lion on their chest.
*STATISTICS CORRECT AS OF 18:00 ON 02\02/21*
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