Big Interview: Why Tyrone Mings wants to be the invisible man at Aston Villa
Standing six feet, five inches tall, Tyrone Mings is difficult to miss.
So it might come as a surprise to learn that, for the past four months at Villa, he has been trying to be invisible.
Confused? You well might be. Yet a simple explanation can be found in a piece of advice given to him by Villa assistant boss John Terry on the art of being a centre-back.
“We’ve sat down many times and his overriding comments to me are: ‘Go through the game without being seen’,” said Mings. “He tells me that a lot. As much as you want to improve the team or help the team, as a centre-back your job is to go under the radar and keep the ball out of the net.
“If you do that and let the strikers get all the adulation and the headlines, then you’re probably doing your job.”
The logic is entirely sound, though the notion of Mings ever going unnoticed is fanciful in the extreme.
Only a madman could not recognise the huge impact Mings has had on Villa’s season since joining on loan from Bournemouth on January transfer deadline day.
The return of injury Jack Grealish might be viewed as the biggest factor in the club’s late charge up the table and into the Championship play-off final for the second year running.
But it is doubtful Dean Smith’s team would now be standing just one game from a Premier League return had it not been for the imposing presence of Mings in the heart of their defence.
The 26-year-old has helped transform a backline which ranked among the Championship’s most porous into one of the strongest.
Villa are no longer a team who need to score three or four goals to win a game and the statistics could not be clearer.
In 29 league matches before he joined, Villa conceded 46 goals. They have conceded just 16 in the 18 he has played since, including the two-legged play-off semi-final victory over Albion.
“It’s been very good to this point and it will have been perfect if we get promoted,” said Mings.
“It’s been everything that any loan player could want. Going into a new club is never easy.
“But the players, the fans, the manager, have really welcomed me with open arms.
“In my first interview with the club, they asked me what to expect from Tyrone the player, and I said that I would leave everything on the pitch and play with my heart on my sleeve.
“I think if you do that as a player, whether you’re on loan or permanent, the fans can really take to that and get behind you.
“That’s all they want – they want a player to play for the shirt and to play for the badge.
“I’ve been a fan. I’ve supported teams. Often when fans get a little bit frustrated is if they feel you’re not working hard. The loan move for me at the moment has been everything I could have asked for.”
Mings speaks warmly of Smith, whose intention to play him at centre-back – the position where he sees his future – helped Villa see off competition from Nottingham Forest for his signature.
So too did the chance to work with five-time Premier League winner Terry.
“He’s a centre-back that a lot of people would put in their all-time Premier League XI,” said Mings.
“Obviously when I knew that there was a chance I could come here and learn from someone like that, in my position, it was an opportunity I couldn’t really turn down.
“We sit down after my games and go through clips and work out on the training pitch together, so he’s been a big help in helping me improve my positioning and decision-making at centre-back, so that’s probably what I’ve learned.
“We sit down after games and that period then is when I can learn the most I think.
“He can’t obviously help during the game, so anything away from the game, any little tips or hints he can give me on what he would have done, or what previous managers would have taught him is obviously invaluable.”
Mings’ move to Villa has been beneficial for all parties, providing him the chance to end any concerns that might have remained over his fitness after three-and-a-half frustrating years with Bournemouth.
He has already made more appearances for Villa than the Cherries, whom he joined in an £8million move from Ipswich in the summer of 2015.
Mings suffered a serious knee injury in his first Premier League appearance and then missed seven months with a back problem.
At Villa, in his own words, he is again playing “with a smile” on his face. He explained: “I have never been injury-prone. I had a seven-week back injury at Bournemouth and was out for seven months. Read into that what you want. I have never pulled a muscle and I don’t see myself as a person who needs to try and stay fit.
“I just need to play games and you can never replicate that in training.
“I was in a position where I needed to play games and I needed people to see me at centre-back.
“Being unable to play for so long isn’t where you want to be as a footballer.
“And if you are not playing for long periods of time, your career is only going to go one way.
“I needed to come out of Bournemouth, if I wasn’t going to get an opportunity there, and show people what I could do.
“I don’t think it has revived my career, it has probably just refreshed it. I am on a path at the moment where I am feeling good. Hopefully we can all taste some success on Monday.”
Though Mings insists he is not looking beyond Wembley, there is no question the outcome of the game could go a long way to determining his own future.
If Villa beat Derby and book their return to the top flight, they will unquestionably push to sign him on a permanent deal.
Securing his signing would delight supporters for whom he rapidly became a hero.
Mings’ post-game invasion of the away section during the celebrations that followed the dramatic semi-final shootout with Albion, though motivated by a desire to see his dad Adie, perfectly symbolised the bond which now exists between fans and team.
“My dad (Adie) was in there,” revealed Mings. “So I went in to see him!
“I think beyond me jumping into the crowd, I have obviously made no secret of the fact I am really enjoying playing for these fans and this club.
“The semi-final was a great occasion for us and there should be no shame in celebrating getting to the final.
“People say you haven’t done anything yet but there are a lot of teams in this league who would love to be in this position. The celebrations were short lived. As soon as we got back here after the game we went our different ways and we are now focused on the job ahead.
“We’re under no illusions what a great occasion it will be and a lot of players were involved in it last year.
“It will be a terrible day if we lose, or a great day if we win. Hopefully we will come out the right side of it.”