By Owen Arthur
August 29th, 2019 was a notable day for Aston Villa, as two of its players were called up to the full England squad, after a long absence for claret and blue players in the national team. Tom Heaton continued to maintain his presence in the squad after transferring from Burnley, while more satisfyingly for Villa fans, was the first ever call up for Tyrone Mings.
Mings signed on loan last January and had a massive hand in Villa going up before signing permanently and easily looking like a Premier League centre back in Villa’s first three matches. With John Stones injured, Mings form was rewarded and he has pipped Conor Coady at Wolves, and Ben Mee and James Tarkowski at Burnley, more established Premier League players, by getting Stones’ slot in the squad.
Aston Villa fans are rightly chuffed, with these call-ups demonstrating the progress the club and its players had made since January.
While the Villa England duo, didn’t get any minutes in England’s games against Bulgaria and Kosovo, the experience certainly would have benefited Mings.
“He’s getting better and better,” said Villa Head Coach, Dean Smith, when asked about Mings’ England involvement.
“He would learnt an awful lot just by going in the England camp for a week or two and he’ll come back a better player for it.”
With England far from settled at the back, opportunity potentially knocks for Mings, in the months ahead.
With England almost certain to qualify and priced as second favourites at 9/2 to win Euro 2020, Mings will hope to now be representing Villa in the tournament itself.
Rich England History
Aston Villa has a rich history of providing players for the England. Indeed in 2009 Nike manufactured a white away kit with blue trim and shorts to pay homage to the fact that at that time, Villa had produced more England internationals than any other team.
When you think of Villa heroes in recent decades who have worn the Three Lions, David Platt’s volley against Belgium in Italia’90 is a source of great pride for Villans. Other Villa favourites to be involved internationally include Tony Daley and Gordon Cowans, whom were given their chances, when Graham Taylor left Villa to be England manager.
When Villa do well, their players tend to represent their country and there’s no better example, than Villa helping the current England boss on his way.
Brian Little turned an average Crystal Palace midfielder into an international centre-back after a season at Villa back in 1995/96, Gareth Southgate made it all the way to the Euro 96 semi-finals with England until his penalty miss against Germany.
Many Villans felt gutted for him after the loss to the Germans and it was always hard to watch that penalty back until he moved on.
Southgate would have to wait until 2018 for redemption from his penalty miss, when as manager, Southgate’s England side beat Colombia on penalties, the first penalty competition victory in a World Cup for England and first since Euro 96 against Spain.
It’s an obvious symptom of Villa’s decline that after 2011, only one more Villa player, Fabian Delph played for England in between the relegation battles, relegation and Championship period of the last eight years.
But while England recognition for your players goes hand in hand with your club making progress, you can’t help wondering if in terms of Villa’s recent history, Villa players gaining England caps and the reflective prestige for the club that goes with it, is like shaking hands with the Devil.
Double-Edge International Sword
England recognition for Villa’s players means players at other clubs might think that signing for us would be better than going somewhere else. We get our prospective targets because we are a club that helps fulfil player’s ambitions. The likes of Southgate, Ehiogu, Hendrie, Vassell, Young, Gabby, Barry, Milner, Bent and Downing all played fulfilled their ambition for playing for England at the club.
We had Bent, Downing and Young all playing for England against Wales in 2011.
Martin O’Neill may have gone, but these players under Gerard Houllier were still making their mark for England and things still seemed to be progressing. Or so we thought, after Villa finished in 9th place following a shaky start due to MON’s departure, things fell apart quickly from the summer of 2011 onwards.
Could Mings’ recent good fortune, turn into another case of Steve Hodge, David Platt, Gareth Barry, James Milner and Fabian Delph all over again?
A quote from Paul Scholes about his experiences of Aston Villa players on England duty in his autobiography, written after his retirement has always haunted Villans.
“I always felt players at clubs like your Aston Villa’s try to use England as a way to get to a top club. Which, I don’t know, you feel, ‘Are they there for the right reason?’ I think they are very selfish people.”
England recognition for Villa players means players will join but also want to move on when they see what they could get at an even more successful club. And nowhere is that staring them in the face more so when they’re away on England squad duty. Athletes have to be selfish to a point to improve their lot and are by very definition competitive. Even with their team mates.
Current England boss Gareth Southgate himself put in a transfer request at Villa, while on Euro 2000 duty with England. He eventually moved on to Middlesbrough, maybe not more glamourous but certainly for more money.
An England international, thanks to Villa, Southgate could now command bigger wages than Deadly Doug Ellis wanted to pay. Ugo Ehiogu, also making his England debut at Villa, followed him north soon after.
Alpay and Mellberg replaced them on more manageable wages. But as we know, half- decent England internationals can command premium wages because, let’s face it, there’s not that many of them about.
David Platt, Southgate’s pal at Euro 96 ended up in Serie A just one year after Italia 90, with Bari. Tiny Bari could pay massive money back in 1991 when Serie A was King, £5.5m was a Villa record for money received in those days.
Platty leaving left many Villans in tears. He was the heartbeat of the Villa team and he was a player that was as good as anyone in the English top tier.
Would he have left if he had never played for England?
You might argue that Platt and Southgate ended up at smaller clubs than Villa. You’d be right, because It’s true, and a big lesson in Villa as a club needing to maintain their ambition or risk being stood in a limbo state of non-achievement.
Missing Out on Top Four Fall Out
When you look at Martin O’Neill’s main midfield men during his tenure at Villa Park, such as Gareth Barry, Ashley Young, James Milner and Stewart Downing, you can see why England call-ups for Villa players are to be feared.
MON turned Barry into a regular England midfielder only for Barry to try to force a move to Liverpool before ending up at Man City. Man City had finished below Villa the season before he went. Obviously money talks, but if Villa had broken into the top four, Barry would have more than likely stayed on.
Ashley Young broke into the England squad under Villa and soon moved on. Within a year of Milner’s England debut whilst at Villa he was gone. Stewart Downing was bought by Villa with a broken leg. We nursed him back to fitness. During his second season at Villa, Downing became a regular under Fabio Capello and after saying he owed the club for looking after him, promptly left a few days later.
And then there’s our former captain Fabian Delph, who seemed to take ages to make the grade. Given a new deal he barely deserved under Houllier, sent out on loan, rehabilitated from injury, made skipper, an England regular under Hodgson in 2014, only to become the snake that jumped ship after initially pledging his loyalty.
And this is why, in conclusion, Villa players getting England call-ups can be a concern. Yes, it shows we are making strides again. And yes, most Premier League teams have one or two England internationals these days. So it’s not that big a deal surely?
Maybe not with Mings and Heaton, but is Southgate maybe doing us a favour at the moment not putting Jack Grealish in the squad for now? He’s already had his head turned once by Spurs last year.
Look at our top men of the last 30 years – Platt, Southgate, Ehiogu, Barry, Young, Milner and Delph, they all arguably thought they were bigger than Villa after becoming England regulars.
Even Steve bloody Hodge said he had to leave Villa for the sake of his England career in the late 80’s!
While you can only be happy for Heaton and especially Mings, as their recognition shows Villa’s progress, but will we be 100% happy when Super Jack Grealish gets a call up? As it could be David Platt all over again…