In the coming transfer window, Burnley striker Danny Ings will make a decision that could go on to define the rest of his career.
A 22 year-old, home-grown prospect whose 21 nets fired the Turf Moor outfit to promotion from the Championship last season, now boasting nine goals and four assists in his last 18 top flight appearances, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United, amongst others, are reportedly prepared to pounce on the England U21 this summer when his Burnley contract comes to an end.
For such a prodigious talent, a nominal compensation fee could well prove to be one of the deals of the century, and manager Sean Dyche has already admitted that Ings should be plying his trade at the top end of the Premier League table. Burnley hero Robbie Blake – famed for his superfluous winner against Manchester United in 2009 – has also advised the striker to take up the opportunity before some of his many coveted suitors move on to alternative targets.
Yet, there’s another option on the table for Ings, an unusual one for young British players but could nonetheless transform him into the top-class talent he’s heralded by many to become – a move to La Liga, courtesy of David Moyes’ Real Sociedad.
The Premier League is considered to be the best top flight in world football, so why would a young product like Ings, attracting attention from the division’s highest powers, want to turn his back on it for La Liga, a league that in comparison, lacks competitiveness and a fair spread of quality throughout its twenty sides?
Well, Greg Dyke once described the Premier League as a ‘finishing school‘ for the world’s elite, and that’s exactly what it’s become – players with incredible talent are brought to England and fine tuned towards a better rounded, higher intensity and more physical game.
As a consequence however, it’s not a league that particularly aids the development of young players – especially technically. We’ve seen a buck in this trend recently, through the likes of 2014’s European Golden Boy Raheem Sterling and Tottenham’s Harry Kane, but a quick glance at the sorry state of the national team tells all about how difficult it’s become for young English players since the Premier League’s incarnation.
Whilst Burnley can guarantee Ings weekly first team football, at Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea or United, he’d be reduced to just one of the pack – and when fortunes turn foul at major clubs, it’s nearly always the younger players that get pushed towards the peripheries, as it becomes harder and harder for them to impress in a team struggling for form.
At Real Sociedad he’ll be rivalling the likes of Alfred Finnbogason, Imanol Agirretxe and Carlos Vela for the striker slot, but the route to the starting Xi is far less congested, and the relentless pressure for results in the Premier League – that, once again, often comes at the expense of young players – is almost incomparable to the more relaxed, less hyperbolic tones of La Liga.
Likewise, Ings is a rather unique home-grown product in my opinion. Lacking the pace or power of your generic Premier League striker, it’s his movement, creativity, technique and intelligence as a footballer that stand out most. An education in La Liga, the home of tiki-taka, would only underline those defining attributes, as a league that will oblige the Burnley forward to develop them further if he’s to prove successful at Anoeta.
Just take a look at Gareth Bale; he left the Premier League as one of the top counter-attacking threats in world football through his relentless physicality, but the Welsh wizard has since emerged as a master of the tight spaces also, with tidy nutmegs, deft flick-ons, reverse passes and nifty footwork aplenty.
When Roy Hodgson is selecting his England squads in the years to come, choosing between Ings and fellow poaching prodigies Saido Berahino and Harry Kane, such an influence of more exotic, continental philosophies would really make him stand out against the herd – and potentially, aid a Three Lions side that’s constantly failed to transition it’s basketball-paced brand of domestic football to the international scene.
At any other club, it would likely be a poor fit. After all, this is a 22 year-old verging upon one of the most important stages in his career, so throwing a new language, culture and style of living into the equation could quickly result in catastrophe. But the important link at Sociedad is David Moyes – a manager who knows English football like the back of his hand, has experience developing young British players and is already attempting to imprint some of the Premier League ideology onto his Anoeta squad. Moyes knows the kind of service Ings is used to in England, and if he struggles to transition his style to La Liga, the Scot has the knowledge to hone in on exactly why.
Don’t get me wrong, upping sticks for Spain a sizeable risk on the striker’s part – one that today’s papers claim he’s unwilling to take. Yet Sociedad represent a stepping stone well within Ings’ reach – I still hold large doubts over the amount of first team football he’ll receive at Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea or United – that would add something uniquely continental to his game.
La Liga doesn’t suit everybody, but in my opinion, Ings has more than enough about him to be a success there. And just ask some of England’s older generation that went abroad – Chris Waddle, Glenn Hoddle, David Platt and Steve McManaman, for example – the introduction of foreign philosophies, formations and styles only improved them as players. It’s hardly an unheard of theory, and one that Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany has recently endorsed, particularly regarding young English players that often ignorantly isolate themselves from the rest of the footballing world.
The chance to sign for Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea or Manchester United doesn’t come around too often. But if Ings is as talented as the current hype suggests, and if he continues to prove it at Real Sociedad, the Premier League’s top clubs will undoubtedly come calling for his services again a few years down the line.