England’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria marked Tyrone Mings’ remarkable rise from non-league hopeful to international footballer.
Yet, what was supposed to be the pinnacle of the 26-year-old’s professional life to date was overshadowed by the racism he endured.
As Gareth Southgate’s side cantered to a 6-0 success against uninspiring opposition in Sofia, coping with vile taunts from the terraces proved to be the biggest test for Mings on his maiden national team outing.
He responded with the mental strength which has helped shape an unconventional career.
“I don’t think anything could spoil this moment for me personally. It’s obviously disappointing,” he said defiantly post-match.
Mings had appeared equally unfazed at the time of the abuse, drawing it to the attention of one of the referee’s assistants by questioning, ‘hey, did you hear that?’, and calmly alerting captain Harry Kane to the situation.
Displays of resilience are nothing new from the Aston Villa player.
His challenging pathway to an England cap has included various character-building setbacks such as teenage rejection and serious injuries.
Less than seven years ago, Bath-born Mings was in danger of slipping through the net.
He was playing for Wiltshire-based club Chippenham and working as a mortgage broker following a spell with another non-league side, Yate Town.
Those moves came after he was released by Southampton at the age of 16 and secured a football scholarship at Millfield School, a private boarding school in Somerset known for developing young athletes.
It was current Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy who eventually took a chance on him, paying £10,000 to take him from Chippenham to Ipswich in December 2012.
Mings – then aged 19 – used the opportunity to demonstrate a tenacious attitude which would later help take him all the way to the top of the sport.
“This is for everyone who laughed when I said I wanted to be a footballer or said I wouldn’t make it,” he tweeted after signing an 18-month contract with the Tractor Boys.
In three seasons at Portman Road, Mings more than justified McCarthy’s faith and made 57 appearances to earn an £8million move to Premier League new boys Bournemouth.
However, his dramatic upward curve was soon halted. A frustrating four years on the south coast were blighted by injury and a lengthy – and untimely – ban.
Mings suffered a serious knee problem on his Premier League debut against Leicester in August 2015 and had his resolve severely tested by almost 16 months on the sidelines.
In March 2017, his bid to regain fitness was subsequently curtailed by a clash with then-Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic which left him suspended for five matches for an alleged stamp.
Mings did not feature again that season, managed just nine more top-flight outings for the Cherries and only 10 league starts in total, partly due to a long-term back issue.
With his career floundering, a deadline-day move to Villa Park in January provided a lifeline.
Dropping back to the Championship where he initially made his name, 6ft 5in Mings became a towering rock at the heart of Dean Smith’s defence, helping the west midlands club return to the Premier League via the play-offs.
The successful loan switch was made permanent for an initial fee believed to be £20million and he has been ever-present in the top-flight this term attracting the attention of England boss Southgate with a series of assured performances.
Mings’ international debut also owed a lot to the poor form of Michael Keane, the injury problems of John Stones, and the current international exile of Kyle Walker.
His mature display in the Bulgarian capital suggests he possesses both the talent and the temperament to seize the opening.
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