Few would begrudge Danny Ings the opportunity to allow himself a moment or two of self-pity every now and then over the course of the last 22 months.
670 days ago, the striker’s world was very different to the one he finds himself in today.
A run of three goals in five games for his new club, Liverpool, a maiden England cap and a Kop chant to boot meant he went into his first training session with Jürgen Klopp high on confidence… until one sharp movement sent pain rippling out from his left knee and meant his season, that had begun so promisingly, was effectively over because of an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
Ings returned ahead of schedule as a substitute on the final day of the campaign at West Bromwich Albion and continued to move towards peak condition by impressing during the Reds’ pre-season friendlies and a series of runouts for the U23s.
It culminated in a long-awaited Anfield return when he entered the action in the 67th minute of a League Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur, a little over a year to the day he’d sustained that ACL issue.
It was to end in tears – “for the first time since I was a kid, I just burst out crying when I found out” – however, when he suffered an impact injury to his right knee while attempting to make a challenge on an opposing defender. Within a matter of hours, Ings was told he required another operation and his season was over.
But to his credit, as the No.28 sat with Liverpoolfc.com at the team hotel in Rottach-Egern, Germany, recently, there isn’t even the slightest hint of self-despair at such wretched luck.
Feeling sorry for himself isn’t part of Ings’ makeup – and it’s patience not pity he asks of others as he again works his way back to optimum condition.
“I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me,” he says. “At the end of the day, it was an injury and they’re part of the game. They happen to a hell of lot of people, especially nowadays with how fast the games are.
“The only thing I want from people is patience, which I have had in unbelievable levels and everyone has been so positive. I am where I want to be at this moment in time, but there’s still a lot of hard graft left for me to do before I am back to where I’m striving to get to.
“Things don’t just happen overnight for you. I know football can change overnight, but when you’ve had such a bad injury you’ve got to be really careful that you don’t try to do too much and pick up little setbacks, so I’ll keep taking it step-by-step until I get there.
“Everybody has been great in helping and supporting me to this point – and I am ready to go now and take those next steps.”
For the second year running, Ings is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation.
He resumed full training in early July having remained at Melwood for all but one week during the summer to bring a comeback closer to reality. A further, significant, stride was taken on Friday night when he scored for the U23s at Swansea City after just 11 minutes of play.
“I feel good,” he states. “It feels a lot different to last time – the rehab felt like it went a lot quicker. Even though it was actually longer, mentally it felt like it passed quicker.
“I worked all the way through the summer when the lads were off, apart from a week’s break, so I feel I caught up quite a lot in that time. That’s given me the opportunity to be back with the lads a bit earlier than expected, so I’m happy.
“I don’t think there is a set time on when I actually get back out onto the pitch, it’s just a day-by-day situation, which is normal after such a long period of time out.
“It’s my first few weeks back with the team, but it’s good that I am hitting those levels and training with the lads as much and as frequently as I am. It was another step forward.
“I have done everything I possibly can in the gym – I couldn’t have done any more and I think that’s shown in my testing in terms of strength, my reactive testing and being able to train with the lads two or three times a day. But it doesn’t stop now that I am fit, I still want to improve. I’ve missed a lot of football and I’ve missed a lot of development, so I am constantly learning and watching the boys, trying to get back to the old me and also be better than that.”
Ings is eager to make clear that he owes just as much to the dedication and hard work of others – as well as their support – in helping arrive at this stage of his recuperation.
In his own words, he couldn’t have done it alone.
“I am very fortunate that I have a lot of good people around me, both within the club and away from the club,” Ings says with conviction. “It’s very easy to lose faith in your own ability and your career when you get hit with injuries like I have so far since I came to Liverpool. But I have people around me who motivated me to use any negative situations as fuel to strive on, carry on and still try to become the player I want to be.
“Everybody helped me through it at the club. All of the medical team here. I have been with Matt Konopinski a lot for my rehab. He did my last one with Joe [Gomez]. He specialises in long-term rehabs and I’ve spent a lot of time with him over the last 18 months and the amount of time and effort he puts into my work is astonishing. The other medical staff have been incredible as well. Away from the club, my family have been so supportive. Family are family and they’ll always support you. My agent has been one of my biggest motivators – he’s more of a friend than anything.
"The other players have been so, so supportive. Every single day, they’d be asking how I’m doing. Everybody. It’s so refreshing to have that when you’re injured – it makes you not feel isolated. I haven’t felt that way once, ever, in this whole process. I can’t appreciate it enough.”
Another man whose support has been abundant over the last 22 months is that of Klopp.
Ings says of his manager: “I am always speaking to him. He will come up to me at Melwood and we’ll chat. He was always asking how I was doing, always checking in with the medical staff to see how I was and it was great to have that support. I know he has a million other things to focus on, so to have the time to come to me and see how I am doing is just fantastic.”
Ings’ inclusion in Liverpool’s squad for the week-long training camp was certainly another reason for him to be upbeat.
Not only for the step up in intensity as Klopp and his team prepared the Reds for the challenges ahead in 2017-18, but also the interaction with his teammates.
Now, having figured for Neil Critchley’s men at Swansea, it’s likely Ings will continue to work more with the club’s U23s again to build match fitness and sharpness, but he’s confident he will reap the benefits of travelling to southern Germany.
“It couldn’t have been more of a perfect week to reintegrate with the team,” he insists. “Being a part of the training, waking up every day and having breakfast with the lads, going off to training… that’s a lot different to being back home at Melwood doing rehab. So it’s good to feel a part of it again, going out and training with the lads and improve every day on my fitness and confidence.
“We had the new lads coming in and it’s important we get to know each other. They’re all really, really nice lads. They’ve all settled in really quickly, but it’s that kind of group here – you come in and are made to feel a part of it.
“They did their initiation songs really well, which is always a big part of joining a new team. They didn’t look uncomfortable and looked as though they enjoyed it!”
Ings’ positive disposition is maintained throughout our 20-minute interview. So, just how does he retain such sanguinity?
“Don’t get me wrong, there were one or two times when I was out when I had weak moments; when you question your ability, you question whether you’re going to be the same, whether the manager is going to like you the same, whether the players are going to like you the same and want to play with you…” he responds candidly.
“It’s important that you break through that and appreciate where you are, firstly. That’s why I’ve always been able to stay positive because my journey has been an unbelievable one since I was 15. I was playing Sunday league football until then, but when I get that opportunity in professional football it’s been a rollercoaster for me ever since. Now I am here at one of the biggest clubs in the world, it’s crazy. That alone keeps me positive and motivated to keep improving.
“Secondly, it’s about having the right people around you and the right influences who push you every day – from your girlfriend, your friends, the staff, your agent, the other players. I have everything I need to stay positive.”
Being back with the squad has come at a small cost for Ings – the creation of a fresh nickname, courtesy of James Milner.
He reveals with a broad smile: “Millie has nicknamed me ‘Jonny’ because of Jonny from Love Island. He seems to think we have a similar look in our faces. He doesn’t call me Ingsy anymore, it’s just Jonny. I am working on finding something to get him back with, but there’s literally nothing you can find on that man. I am digging, but there’s nothing on him.”
The new nom-de-plume didn’t impact Milner’s participation in the movie screenings staged by Ings’ roommate in Germany, Danny Ward.
“I have to give my roomie a mention – Danny Ward has been unbelievable,” he states. “He has really produced with his movie nights. He even wired up a movie night downstairs in the games room for me, him and Millie. We watched The Rock – what a film that is! Millie said we had to watch ’90s films, so we also watched Face Off the following night.”
Before we wrap up our chat, matters switch back to a more serious tone.
Given where Ings was at in his career 670 days ago – scoring in derbies, playing for England and more – does the Winchester-born frontman retain a conviction he can reach such levels again with the Reds?
“I don’t see why not,” he replies, with both firmness and faith in his tone. “I don’t see why I can’t achieve what I’ve always wanted to achieve.
“With all the rejection I endured in football as a kid, I never thought the chance to achieve what I have so far would ever be available to me. The little steps I’ve taken in my career have given me more hunger to take the next steps.
“I am a player who is never going to settle for what I am – I am always going to try and improve and do my best, so I don’t see any reason why I can’t get back to that level. It’s going to take time after this injury to get back to my best, but I am willing to give everything, every day to try and make it happen.”
And what about that next goal? Has Ings allowed himself to imagine what kind of emotions he will experience when he finally hits the back of the net again for the senior team?
“I am craving it like you wouldn’t believe,” is the swift answer. “Any striker will tell you the same thing. The feeling you get when you score a goal is like no other; everything just goes out of your head and you don’t think about anything. Your adrenaline starts pumping, you see the fans celebrating and your teammates running over to you and grabbing you… there is no better feeling.
“I am craving it, getting back out there and scoring. I cannot wait to feel it again.”