‘I never doubted I would be back,’ says prolific Ings after five-year wait for return
➤ Southampton’s evergreen striker says long-awaited call into the England fold has been ‘like the first day at school’
Danny Ings has long said that his best is yet to come and while it has taken him five years to get back into the England squad since winning his only cap in October 2015, it is a mantra that he holds on to more strongly than ever as one of the Premier League’s top strikers.
The Southampton forward, who struck 22 league goals in the 20192020 season in a team who finished 11th, and with only one penalty – which he missed – has had an extraordinary comeback with England. There are footballers who become synonymous with their injuries, but Ings is determined not to be one of them and, speaking in a Zoom call from St George’s Park yesterday, said he had never doubted that one day he would be back.
The injuries he no longer wants to discuss, and when it comes to his future he is adamant that there is much more to come. “I think the best part of my football is going to be the second part of my career because I did miss quite a lot of football,” he says.
“To have the season I have just had and give myself something to build on. I do feel the best football for me is going to be in the years to come. I still feel extremely fit and hungry and I don’t think you stop learning as a player when you eventually get to your thirties.”
His contract with Southampton is down to less than two years and while there have been suggestions that he will be next for an extension, there is no question that Ings’s performances will give some wealthier clubs a decision to make this window. He was the subject of an inquiry from Manchester United in January before they signed Odion Ighalo, and strong performances against Iceland on Saturday and Denmark three days later in the Nations League will propel him back into view.
As one who did not play for a club challenging the top six, Ings, 28, was a standout in the race for the Premier League Golden Boot. Indeed, Southampton were in the relegation zone for nine of the first 17 match-days and yet only Jamie Vardy outscored Ings.
His minutes-per-goal ratio of 128 was the best among the top 10 goalscorers. A goal conversion rate of 33 per cent was better than any other goalscorer in the top 25. In short, Ings did more with less. If there was any doubt about his fitness, he played in all 38 league games.
“Often it’s a difficult challenge to keep up with these guys who consistently score a lot of goals every season,” Ings says. “But to see my name within that list gave me great confidence. It made me just want to keep scoring and scoring. Credit to our lads at Southampton for the way we turned the season around and the amount of chances that we created from mistakes and our pressing. Sometimes, my goals were not glamorous, but any striker will tell you a goal is a goal.”
He politely described a return to St George’s Park for the first time in five years like a “first day at school”, but he has been through much bigger challenges. He was a certainty for England’s March friendlies, cancelled as the game went into lockdown, and then had to show that he could come out of that hiatus as sharp as he had gone in. He finished Project Restart with seven goals in nine games.
“For me, it was very simple: I had to stay fit and come back after lockdown in the best shape I could,” he says. “I managed to do that and finish the season strong.”
With that in mind, will he be signing a new contract if Southampton offer him one? Having already played for one of the Premier League’s top clubs in Liverpool, there is unfinished business for Ings, who began only a three-year deal at Southampton last summer. “I have just read the same as what you probably have,” Ings says. “I don’t know what the club’s intentions are. But the fact they value me makes me feel good.”
No other current England international scored more than Ings in the Premier League last season. Gareth Southgate, who knows Ings well from the Under-21s, will be tempted to start with a striker in form – and who knows where that might take him before deadline day on Oct 5.
Leading from the front: Danny Ings celebrates one of the 22 league goals that propelled him to the verge of being last season’s Golden Boot winner