It felt like a polite but overly complimentary tribute from Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp as he bade farewell to another promising player who failed to make the grade at Anfield.
“We won’t just miss his character,” Klopp said of Danny Ings soon after the bittersweet departure of the injury-prone striker to his hometown club of Southampton in August 2018. “Because he is a footballer who has all the tools.”
Klopp’s glowing assessment has proved to be spot on.
Ings is turning out to be one of the revelations of the English Premier League, netting 11 goals for Southampton – a team embroiled in yet another relegation scrap – to be tied for second in the scoring charts behind only Jamie Vardy.
Hard-working and the owner of an impressive burst of pace over short distances, Ings was unfortunate to be dogged by injury during his time at Liverpool. After scoring the last goal of the Brendan Rodgers era in October 2015, he sustained an anterior cruciate ligament injury soon after Klopp came in as manager and was ruled out for almost all of the rest of the 2015-16 season.
The next season, Klopp’s first full one in charge, Ings played two matches – in the English League Cup – before he was struck down by another serious knee injury and spent another year on the sidelines.
There was always only an outside chance that Ings would be the first-choice striker at a heavyweight like Liverpool, but his near two-year absence allowed Roberto Firmino to establish himself as the No. 1 in that position. Even when he regained fitness, Ings knew he’d only be a bit-part player in Klopp’s revolution, despite being a popular figure on Merseyside.
So, at the start of the 2018-19 season, just before Liverpool turned the corner to become one of the most feared club sides in the world, Ings switched from being a bench-warmer at a top club to a permanent starter at a relegation candidate. He joined Southampton on loan initially, before making the transfer permanent at the end of last season.
Trophies are unlikely to be forthcoming for Ings but, now that his injury concerns have started to subside, plenty of plaudits are coming his way.
“He’s a typical No. 9 in the box,” Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl said after Ings scored twice in a 3-1 win at Aston Villa last weekend to lift his team out of the bottom three. “With his technique, there are not many strikers who are better than him.”
In his most prolific form since the 2013-14 season when he scored 26 times for Burnley in the second-tier League Championship, Ings has drawn inevitable talk of maybe adding to his solitary cap for England, which came in 2015 as a substitute against Lithuania.
And why not? Vardy is the only player to score more than him this season and the Leicester striker has retired from international duty.
Playing for Southampton, one of the more unfashionable top-flight clubs, might see Ings slip down the queue for an England call-up – that fate befell arguably the club’s greatest player, Matthew Le Tissier, in the 1990s – but England manager Gareth Southgate has previously showed he will pick players on form over reputation. Ryan Bertrand, Ings’ teammate at Southampton, is regarded as a regular in England squads, for example.
Southgate has to be impressed with the numbers that Ings is producing. He is responsible for more than 50% of Southampton’s goals, has scored in 10 of the team’s last 13 games, and has become only the third Southampton player – after Le Tissier and James Beattie – to reach double figures in goals before Christmas in a Premier League.
Now 27 and in the prime of his career, Ings is showing just what he can do if he steers clear of injury. The threat of breaking down will always hang over the striker, given his unfortunate record, but Hasenhüttl hasn’t felt the need to rest his top scorer. In truth, he cannot afford to.
Southampton heads to Chelsea on Thursday having moved three points clear of the relegation zone with that win at Villa.
Ings has scored against Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham, and Arsenal already, as well as at home against Chelsea in October.
Playing the big teams holds no fear for Ings.
“I know the best chapters in his personal story are still to be written,” Klopp said in those touching farewell comments to the striker last year. “He just requires the opportunity.”
Ings is making the most of his.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80