Danny Ings usually gives mementos from a rollercoaster career to his dad, Shayne, but made an exception with his first, and so far only England cap. That belongs in the Southampton striker’s home, serving not only as a source of pride but of inspiration throughout the past four demanding years.
“Since I was a kid, and throughout my career, my old man has all my stuff but the cap stayed with me,” says Ings, who is back in the England squad for the first time since making his debut against Lithuania in October 2016. “It was a reminder. It was something for me to work towards. I kept it in the house with me because I did not want to have just one cap. It is not on display, and when I got the call it was good to get it out and hopefully I can add more to it in the future.”
The call-up for the Nations League double-header with Iceland and Denmark was richly deserved after a prolific season with Southampton, but it has been a long, arduous time coming. Ings was a Liverpool player when he made his England bow in the European Championship qualifier, fresh from opening the scoring in a Merseyside derby. He arrived back from international duty with his career in the ascendency and keen to impress the newly appointed Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp.
The next day, in Klopp’s first training session, Ings sustained an anterior cruciate ligament injury that sidelined him for seven months. The next season, Klopp’s first full campaign in charge, ended for Ings after two months when he sustained another serious knee injury. It is no surprise the 28-year-old would rather look forward than back, having been reinvigorated by a return to his boyhood club.
“That was a long time ago and to be honest I’ve left that behind now,” he says of the injuries that derailed his Liverpool career. But did he worry the chance would never come again? “To be honest, no. I think the best part of my career is going to be the second part because I did miss quite a lot of football. To have the season I have just had, I have given 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. There is always so much to learn in football.”
Walking back into St George’s Park after four years away felt “like the first day back at school”, according to Ings. “You go in and you are a bit nervous inside. You haven’t been here in a few years, but the moment I stepped into the building it is familiar faces. I definitely appreciate it more.
“It has been a long time since that brief spell in the national team, so to be back in this environment gives me great confidence that over the years I’ve been doing something right, improving and getting back to the levels I wanted to be at. I want to get even better now. I want to keep improving and to try and make as many squads as I can because it would be a great feeling to do so.”
Ings was the joint-second highest scorer in the Premier League last season with 22 goals for a Southampton side that endured a troubled start before climbing to 11th. Only one was a penalty – his 22nd, against Sheffield United – and he missed a spot-kick against Bournemouth. He admits being in competition with Jamie Vardy, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Raheem Sterling and Mohamed Salah for the golden boot brought huge satisfaction.
“Often it’s a difficult challenge to keep up with these guys who consistently score a lot of goals every season,” says Ings. “But to see my name within that list gave me great confidence – it made me just want to keep scoring and scoring. For me now it is just about improving. I really do admire the top guys who do it consistently and the amount of work they have to put in. My story has been slightly different but I am fit now, enjoying my football. I believe I can keep scoring goals for the club and keep improving.”
There is talk of a new long-term contract being prepared by Southampton for the forward they released as a youngster. “I don’t know what the next step is,” Ings says. “I don’t know what the club’s intentions are but the fact they value me makes me feel good. I’m extremely humbled that the club value me.”