theguardian: When Southampton returned to training in May, it was a case of getting the band back together. Not only is Ralph Hasenhüttl at home on a grand piano and Shane Long partial to an end-of-season singsong but Danny Ings and Jack Stephens share the same guitar teacher.
“I like the older rock and indie music whereas Danny loves Ed Sheeran so he learns all of his stuff, but that’s not for me – I’m more Oasis, Beatles,” says Stephens. “Danny’s quite competitive with it but I don’t take it too seriously. Well, either he’s quite competitive or our teacher is just playing us off against each other.”
The enforced Premier League break presented Stephens with the perfect opportunity to pick up the plectrum and in March he and Ings featured on a charity single in aid of Naomi House & Jacksplace, which provides hospice care to children and young adults.
Long first surprised teammates with his musical talents with a rendition of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry while a teenager at Reading and 18 months ago Hasenhüttl, a few weeks after his appointment, took centre stage and performed an initiation at the team hotel in Huddersfield.
“We tried to convince him to sing but he got up and said he would play the piano,” Stephens says. “It sounded pretty good – I think it was a classical piece.” As for getting together as a group, Stephens smiles. “Shane is capable of doing it on his own – he’s got the lot, he’s brilliant, so we will leave that to him. I’ll just keep going at home.”
Stephens, thought to be the only Cornish player in the Premier League, was born in Torpoint, across the River Tamar from Plymouth, from whom he signed for Southampton for £150,000 nine years ago. He spent the lockdown at home on the edge of the New Forest with his girlfriend, Kate, and the break enabled him to indulge in various documentaries.
A big golf fan – he plays with the captain, James Ward-Prowse, Stuart Armstrong and Alex McCarthy when time allows – he recently began watching Tiger Woods: Back – “when he won the Masters last year, it was incredible” – after enjoying Sunderland ‘Til I Die and Tiger King in between staying in shape.
“It is nice and quiet here so there are plenty of places to go running – and I had plenty of runs to do,” he says. “In training, he [Hasenhüttl] is very intense, demands high standards and it’s great because any little slip-ups and he’ll be on to us. We know the style of play he wants and we seem to have nailed that down now. Now it’s about us developing all aspects of the game.”
It has not been a straightforward season for Stephens. Until he was suspended for last Sunday’s win at Watford because of being sent off against Arsenal, he had started every league game since October. He had been dropped in August after an opening-day defeat by Burnley but the defender has since played an integral part in Southampton’s revival.
Stephens made a handful of appearances for Plymouth – “They are the first result I look out for – but earned his stripes on loan at Swindon and Coventry, where he played alongside a teenage James Maddison and Joe Cole, who was in the twilight of his career. “They had to manage his games a little but he was just out of this world. You could give him the ball wherever he was on the pitch and you just knew he would keep it.”
This month Nathan Redmond tweeted: “Wish everyone understood how good my mate really is”, alongside an image of Stephens, who could return against Manchester City on Sunday, and some supporters have gone one step further by calling him the “Cornish Maldini”, a moniker he laughs off.
“I had that fire in me that I wanted to prove people wrong. I’d been written off, felt a little bit hard done by but I knew it was only me that was going to turn it round. It was a real tough time – not being in the team and sometimes not even being in the squad – and there was a big part of me that was desperate to show that I was good enough to get back in.”
Equally central to Southampton’s resurgence has been the form of Ings, who has scored three goals since the restart, including a double over Watford last time out to take his tally to 21 for the season. Ings’s workrate – epitomised by a last-ditch intervention to deny Tom Trybull early on at Norwich a fortnight ago – has been notable along with his goals.
“That block was in our six-yard box and when you see him doing that you’re so happy when he’s scoring goals at the other end,” says Stephens. “He doesn’t stop running. Sometimes at end of games, it’s the 80th minute and he’s absolutely shot because he’s put all of his effort in.
“Usually, he has scored so it’s almost like he has done his bit and someone else will come on and put in the same shift. He’s not just a goalscorer – he’s a great footballer; he holds the ball up; he brings people into play and he works his socks off.”
Source: Published by theguardian