The72 Interview: Piero Mingoia
I meet Piero Mingoia on a blustery afternoon at Accrington’s stately Dunkenhalgh Hotel. It’s a tranquil, laid-back spot which seems to perfectly suit the talented Stanley winger. Softly-spoken, measured and polite, Mingoia is a refreshing antidote to the antics of certain English players who have taken up column space during this summer.
Honest and engaging throughout our chat, Piero discusses dramatic appearances for Watford, his unforgettable winner for Stanley in their Capital One Cup triumph away at Middlesbrough, his instinctive partnership with Josh Windass, and much more.
DB: You grew up in Enfield in the ’90s, where you obviously had big clubs like Tottenham, Arsenal and then Football League clubs like Leyton Orient, nearby. Which club did you support growing up, and which players did you pretend to be in the playground?
PM: When I was younger, obviously [Manchester] United were pretty strong, but Arsenal were also up there challenging, and not living too far from Highbury and Islington, my team were Arsenal. They had great players like Bergkamp and Marc Overmars – who was one I looked up to.
DB: You joined the Watford youth setup in 2003, and went on to spend a decade at the club. How much do you feel that Watford helped you develop as a player and as an individual during your early years there?
PM: Massively. The experience moulded me into who I am today. All the principles I believe in, I learnt primarily at Watford. I joined when I was 13, and left when I was 21/22, so not only did they improve me as a young kid, as a player, but they taught me things about life, and how to present yourself and how to be respectful to others.
DB: Were there any particular coaches you had in the youth team that you’d say were especially influential?
PM: Sean Dyche was my youth team coach, and Mark Warburton who was part-time, with the youth team, but he was with me throughout much of my stay. They taught me a lot.
DB: You made your first-team debut for the Hornets at the age of 19, scoring a fantastic goal in a 4-1 FA Cup win over Hartlepool United. What are your memories of the build-up to your first game, and of the match itself.
PM: Basically, I’d signed as a pro and had done the pre-season with the first team, and was with them all the time. I hadn’t really got a chance until that game, and was probably the only one out of the young lads that hadn’t been given that opportunity.
I think there were a few injuries and a few older players getting rested as we were playing lower league opposition. I got given a chance and managed to nick a goal and get a Man of the Match award.
DB: You played six more times for Watford in the 2010-11 season, including substitute appearances in that 2-2 draw away at Leeds United, which saw four goals in the final 20 minutes, and a 3-0 demolition of Derby County. What are your memories of those games, and that season for you in general.
PM: The memories, obviously, are really positive as I was a young lad and played against some big teams like Leicester, Derby and Leeds. Coming on at Leeds was probably one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever played in – and for that year, there were only positives. I went on holiday [after the season] over the moon with everything.
Even though some were little appearances, at the standard they were at and the stadiums I played at, they were massive to me.
DB: During 2012 and 2013 you had four loan spells – two of those were in Non-League, with Hayes & Yeading United in the Conference Premier and Boreham Wood in the Conference South. Were you keen to go out on loan, or did the club engineer those moves? And what was it like adapting to the different level of facilities and footballing standard in Non-League?
PM: When loan moves happen, it’s normally a mutual agreement between you and the manager. Obviously, if you’re not really playing, there’s no point you staying there, so if you’ve got any hunger about yourself, you want to go and play.
For me that happened at Hayes, and I managed to nick a few goals and I learnt, really, it opened my eyes up as to what Non-League football was like, and how lucky I was and how good I had it at Watford.
DB: In that period, you also had your first experience of playing in the Red and White of Accrington Stanley. It was a tumultuous time for the club, and manager Paul Cook left for Chesterfield during that period – but you put in some excellent performances. What was Paul like to work under, and what are your standout memories of that first spell?
PM: Again, it was different for me, because it was the first time I had to move away from home. That was a bit difficult to be honest. I just wasn’t used to it, and I managed okay, but deep down, when I look back now, I found it a bit difficult.
Paul Cook was – like everyone knows now – a top manager. So even though he was only there a little while, I picked things up from him and his assistant [Leam Richardson], which I’ve tried to do from all the staff and coaches I’ve had.DB: You were unfortunately released by Watford in the summer of 2013, after your contract expired. Did you feel that they gave you enough of a chance to prove yourself in the first-team?
PM: That first year almost spoiled me, because normally when you’re a first year pro, you might not involved that much in the first-team. The fact that I, and a few of the other boys got quite a few appearances in a short period meant we expected more of the same.
It would have been better if we had started off more gradually and then progressed with more appearances, instead of starting off playing regularly.
Maybe I could have had a loan move before I did, straight away after turning pro, and then coming back to Watford. Because after that first year, I had two years of basically doing nothing [for Watford], and I don’t think I developed. I was doing lots of training, but to develop you need to play more games.
That’s one thing I regret. I should have gone on loan as soon as I realised there wasn’t really a chance of playing at Watford. I hoped there was a chance, but deep down I knew there wasn’t.
DB: You signed for Accrington Stanley on a permanent deal in August 2013, and just four days after joining, you scored the winner in a famous 2-1 Capital One Cup victory away at Middlesbrough. That must rank as one of the highlights of your career so far. What do you remember about the team’s performance and your magic moment?
PM: Obviously we went there as real underdogs, because Middlesbrough’s a massive club, but we thought we could use that to our advantage. We thought they might not take us that seriously as if they were playing a league game.
So, we went there, the team had a good shape and everyone put maximum effort in. We went 1-0 down, but we managed to nick one back just before half-time and then we realised that they weren’t really on their game. So, as the game went on we grew more and more in belief.
We had long spells of defending, but that’s expected – and then I managed to grab a goal with a few minutes to go.
DB: It must have been an incredible feeling.
PM: Yeah, it was an unbelievable feeling. Especially after being released by Watford and having a long summer of not knowing where I was going to be. It was just more of a relief, than anything.
DB: In the 2013-14 season, Stanley got off to a terrible start in League Two, didn’t win any of their first 12 games and looked favourites for relegation. Then the team suddenly got going in mid-October, and ended up finishing 15th. Why did that season begin so badly, and how did the team manage to turn things around?
PM: I’m not sure I can pinpoint why it started so badly, because obviously everyone was putting in a lot of effort and nobody would wish that start to happen. But it happened, and it’s always about the way you react.
After the 12 games, we got it together again. We went down to Plymouth and picked up a point [the match finished 0-0] and then got the first win, and that just gets the shackles off and allows you to play – and from then on we went on a pretty good run.
DB: Do you feel it was a squad with a lot of belief and togetherness?
PM: Yeah. One thing with Accrington, since I’ve been there, is that whatever team I’ve been in, there’s always been group spirit. At a club like this, it’s what keeps us moving forward.
DB: That season you made 13 league starts for the Crown Ground club. You were involved in a game on December 21st that can only be described as a Christmas Miracle! Stanley were 2-1 down away to Mansfield in the 90th minute, and won 3-2. What was the secret to that win, and more generally, to the huge amount of very late goals that Stanley scored that season?
PM: Just belief, really. Especially that Mansfield game, which is one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever been involved in. It was surreal, how we scored two goals that quickly, but it just shows that if you have eleven men believing together, it can be quite powerful.
DB: You were a mainstay for Stanley last season, playing 41 times for the club, which is your most first-team games in a season at any level. What do you think you did well this season, which kept you in the starting XI for the vast majority of the campaign?
PM: I think that in my position as a winger, I was pretty positive and I was trying to create and score goals, and most matches I managed to create chances and chipped in with some goals, which kept me in the team.
DB: Do you feel you’ve become more confident in taking players on and shooting as you’ve gone on in your career, or has that belief always been there?
PM: I think it’s always been there from when I was a kid. After you get released, you take a bit of a hit to your confidence, but last year I got back to how I felt in my youth team days [at Watford] and was just playing freely and enjoying myself.DB: You scored 8 league goals last season from the wing – making you the club’s top scorer! What was the most memorable of those goals for you personally? And how important do you think your link-up play and understanding with Josh Windass was, in terms of you both having good seasons and chipping in with quite a few goals?
PM: My most important goal was probably away at Portsmouth, as it was the winner in a 3-2 victory and happened in such a big stadium and against one of the teams with the biggest finances in the league.
With Josh, the two of us have always had a connection, really. We like to play football the same way, so we help each other out and link up when we can. He’s a good lad, we’re both very chilled out boys who enjoy playing football!
DB: Stanley have finished between 14th-18th for the last four seasons. Realistically, do you think the club can push for the play-offs or perhaps even automatic promotion this season, or are those aims unrealistic with the squad and the budget that Stanley have?
PM: Every year we get put as the favourites to go down, because some people don’t really base it on knowledge of squads, they just do it basically on budgets. It’s a bit unfair, because it doesn’t reflect on the quality of our players we have in our squad.
Last year we had some good results – we beat Burton at home, we beat Portsmouth, and on our day we can beat anyone. It’s just a matter of keeping consistent and keeping up as many points as we can.
[Winning promotion] is an aim we all have but we can only do what we can, and it’s down to us really. We can’t say we’ll go up and then not perform and make silly mistakes. If we say it, we’ve got to be serious and we’ve got to go for it.
DB: What are you hoping for from your career in the coming years? Are you looking to stay at Accrington for the forseeable future, or do you see Stanley as a stepping stone for you to go on to a bigger club?
PM: At the moment I’m enjoying my football, and I’m just looking to repeat a season like last year, and creating and scoring as many goals as I can for the club. Since I’ve been here, everyone’s treated me unbelievably well. So I’m settled here, and for this year I’m here. And then? We’ll just see how the season goes.
DB: Finally, what do you enjoy doing outside of football? And is there ever a career you considered, aside from playing the beautiful game?
PM: I like the media side of football. I enjoy radio shows like talkSPORT’s and commentaries – things like that. It’s not something I’ve looked into properly as a career, though.
I watch a lot of sport, especially in the summer when I’m off. Tennis is up there with my favourite sports, and I like to keep involved with that.
Just as the interview finishes, I accidentally step on the toe of the talented Stanley winger. “It’s alright” he says, then jokes “you’ve just put me out for tomorrow”. But you get the feeling that it’ll take more than that to keep Piero Mingoia from outclassing opposition defenders this season.