Matty Cash didn’t dream of being a Premier League footballer, it’s just something that happened.
Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy
Matty Cash didn’t think becoming a Premier League footballer was possible, even in his wildest dreams, in the early stages of his career – now he’s one of the standout fullbacks in the league with double figures for tackles won and interceptions in just five games.
Things haven’t always been the glitz and glamour of the upper echelon of English football, however. At the age of 16, Cash was released from Wycombe Wanderers – leaving his hopes of playing professional football tattered.
As many who are released from youth academies find, the need for income comes sooner rather than later and Matty was forced to find a part-time job whilst he was at college. He’d be studying five days a week, working in a local toy shop on the weekends – selling Nerf Guns on the shop floor – and also playing in local side Bisham Abbey’s academy, where his brother Adam was one of a large group of scholars hoping to make it into the professional game.
His older sibling had provided him with a pathway back into the game, a chance at redemption after his release. He took the chance, and played with the most senior age group at the club despite only just coming of age. He was excelling at centre-midfield and caught the attention of a number of clubs.
Within the next year, Matty Cash had signed for Nottingham Forest. Aged just 17, the youngster had gone from the disappointing despair of release from Wycombe, to the grounded floors of the toy shop and college – before his extra-curricular effort saw him snapped up to a Sky Bet Championship academy.
Still learning his trade as a centre-mid, the academy staff at Nottingham Forest decided that the Berkshire native may be better suited on the wing, trialling him there on a number of occasions. He made his senior debut in the centre of the park as the reality of making a career in high-level professional football became clearer and the Nerf Guns were drifting further away in the rear view mirror.
Management changes at Forest meant a position change for Matty, with Aitor Karanka deploying him as a winger. He stayed as a winger for a year or two, until last season, when then newly-arrived manager Sabri Lamouchi converted him into a full-back.
The position had always been at the back of his mind. His brother was a natural full-back, albeit not at a high level, but had told Matty on a number of occasions that it was a position that would suit him well. It was something that was always there, but rarely considered – until it was asked of him.
Last November, when Nottingham Forest were flying high in the Sky Bet Championship, Cash signed a new long-term deal after impressing enough to be considered one of Nottingham’s key players in their quest to end their Premier League exile. At that stage of the season, there was interest from Everton and Burnley – but as Forest emerged as promotion contenders, Cash signed in the hope that this, as well as the side’s strong form, would catapult them into a stronger position moving into the latter half of the campaign.
The winger-turned-defender was a popular member of Forest’s dressing room and a consistent performer on the pitch throughout his time at the club, despite five different managers being at the helm.
The 2019/20 season, in which Cash had his most significant season to date, saw Nottingham Forest sit in the top six for 207 consecutive days before slipping out following a dire display on the final day of the season against Stoke City. Cash’s assured displays saw him named Player of the Season, and whilst the fullback made it into EA Sport’s EFL Team of the Season, he was not named in the Sky Bet Championship one.
Matty Cash had been flirting with the prospect of a move to a ‘bigger’ club since before he signed the new contract at Forest, and the deal was likely offered to the defender so the club could make more money upon his likely departure. With the initial interest from Everton and Burnley, came interest from another Premier League side – Sheffield United – as well as from further afield in the form of fallen Italian giants AC Milan.
Aston Villa made their interest formal at the start of the summer, and according to Cash, the club ticked all the boxes. Once their interest was tabled, alongside a bid, Cash only had eyes on the move to Villa Park. It was a move that matched his ambition, and a return to his roots with his father Stuart being born not too far away in Tipton.
So far this season Matty has himself, ticked all the boxes. His first action in an Aston Villa shirt was a marauding run into the Sheffield United half followed by a pin-point cross that a team-mate couldn’t finish. His defensive effort has been lauded by fans and pundits alike, and he’s already turning into a firm fan favourite.
In the aforementioned Sheffield United game, England manager Gareth Southgate was in the stands to monitor the performances of Tyrone Mings and Jack Grealish – and was likely keeping an eye on Cash, Targett, Konsa and Watkins too.
For Cash, who initially had no thoughts that his ability would take him to the Premier League, a call-up to the England squad would take some spectacular luck and performances, with the Three Lions blessed with a swathe of talent in that position. Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Reece James are all ahead of him in that regard.
There is another option for the Aston Villa new boy internationally, however. Matty Cash is available for selection for the Poland National Team, through his half-Polish mother. There has been contact with his agent about playing for the Biało-czerwoni – and it’s something that the full-back would consider – although he’s in no rush to make a decision.
We’ll likely see Cash impress for Villa for years to come. And who knows, sooner rather than later, we might see him lining up alongside Robert Lewandowksi too.