For every mesmeric, dazzling Jack Grealish run, exquisite Ross Barkley pass or Ollie Watkins goal, Aston Villa’s new right-back Matty Cash epitomises the guts and desire that Villa have required to make a record-breaking start to the Premier League season.
His first four games in a Villa shirt have been crucial to the club’s best-ever start to a Premier League campaign. In a four-game start that has seen Villa pick up 12 points from 12, three clean sheets and a 7-2 win over reigning champions Liverpool, Cash has not only been a mainstay in Dean Smith’s side but also a stand out from his seemingly reserved full-back role.
Cash left Nottingham Forest with all the well-wishes of a player that’s stolen the hearts of a fanbase all too familiar with some of England’s finest players down the years.
The 23-year-old who had no shortage of offers from around the Premier League will move across the Midlands to Aston Villa in a deal worth up to £16 million. Dean Smith is keen to strengthen the squad that clinched Premier League survival on the final day of last season.
Villa were determined to land the services of Cash, who has already added versatility, plenty of quality and more importantly a desire to improve and learn under head-coach Smith.
In his fourth appearance of the season against Leicester, Cash registered the most clearances (4), most successful tackles (3) and indeed interceptions (3) in just the first half. Making a 100% tackle success and 100% aerial success over Harvey Barnes was proof that Villa’s new full-back has taken to life in the top-flight like a duck to water.
The Nigel Doughty Academy product left the City Ground on the back of a fine season which saw him crowned the club’s player of the year – joining illustrious company of former winners, Stuart Pearce, Kenny Burns, and Peter Shilton.
The club’s height of success in the late ’70s and early ’80s when Forest ruled over Europe for two successive years have long been buried in the past, having toiled with lower league football for quite some time away from England’s top-flight.
Under Sabri Lamouchi last season, Forest came within touching distance of the play-offs – that however, a disappointing ending to a season that had promised so much for a club who had been in League One more recently than the Premier League.
Despite their late-season capitulation, Cash played a crucial role in Lamouchi’s side last term. Interest swiftly came from Sheffield United, West Ham United and even AC Milan towards the back end of last season.
Forest fans, as well as general on-lookers, viewed Cash as one of the most promising youngsters in the Championship for a few years. His high-energy performances throughout his four years stay at the City Ground makes him a very useful asset across several positions.
And after becoming Villa’s first signing of the summer, Cash couldn’t hold back his delight when he penned a long-term deal at Villa Park.
“My agent rang me and said that Villa were interested, and immediately it was the place I wanted to come to,” Cash revealed to VillaTV.
“I said, ‘don’t even worry about anywhere else, I want to come here and play’.
“It’s such a big football club, from the fanbase to the stadium. Every time I played at Villa Park before it just sold itself to me.”
His enthusiasm, determination and versatility brands him the correct profile of player to succeed in the top-flight which seems even more likely given his ‘every manager’s dream’ tag.
Cash may not be a household name yet – unlike Kieran Trippier who Villa had been linked with before finally signing Cash – but he fits Villa’s strategy of recruiting the players with the desired player profile which is nowadays more important than ever for Smith, who is keen to embrace a new culture at Bodymoor Heath.
Cash had previously stated that he was willing to play in every position for Forest. Sacrificing his preferred attack-minded midfield role to fill in for injury-stricken Carl Jenkinson and Tendayi Darikwa speaks volumes of his attitude, contributing to the team and trusting the manager’s selection.
He took to his advanced right-back role well, improving leaps and bounds through an arduous Championship campaign. With limited time on the training pitch and more time travelling to Blackburn, Barnsley and Brentford, his improvement across several positions is very impressive.
Cash was made to work hard for the Premier League dream
Having been released by Wycombe as a youngster, Cash emerged from the FAB football academy in Bisham before signing a three-year deal at Nottingham Forest.
After working through the Nigel Doughty Academy at Forest, Cash joined then-League Two side Dagenham and Redbridge, making 12 appearances and scoring three goals, including a 30-yard strike against Hartlepool United after making his professional debut the week before.
Forest were impressed by Cash’s performances while out on-loan. So much so they handed him a debut on the opening day of the 2016-17 Championship campaign in a 4-3 over Burton Albion. A day later, Cash signed a new three-year deal with Forest to keep him at the club until 2019.
Speculation would soon grow about his promising future, with interest particularly strong in Europe. 2016 would turn out to be the breakthrough year for Cash who featured 30 times for the Reds only a year after plying his trade on-loan in League Two.
Former Forest defender Kenny Burns – who won the First Division title and two European Cups with the club – said that some of Cash’s performances that season put some of the more experienced Forest players ‘to shame’.
Still learning his position, Cash is keen and willing to improve in order to not only play his part for Villa next season but improve them in ways not so obvious as first thought. John Terry has endeavoured to sharpen his defensive game while adapting to the pace and intensity for the Premier League will come with more game-time under his belt.
An enthusiastic individual on the training pitch also, Cash could’ve kicked up a fuss when Lamouchi – new to the Championship managing game – ordered him to step into the full-back role, away from his preferred role, one he’d been developing in for numerous years. Though his response was a breath of fresh air.
Taking on the responsibility for the team, flourishing in a position where he can still break the lines, attack and defend with versatility – eye-catching performances last season weren’t few and far between, in fact, quite the opposite.
His work-rate will likely go unmatched throughout the 90 minutes. He epitomises the ‘modern full-back’ role with an appetite to influence the game from his deeper-lying position.
Rarely will you hear a bad word said about Cash, his temperament, attitude and focus is testament to his character, and his overall game is all the better for it. He formed an effective, formidable link with Joe Lolley down the right flank last season in the Championship. Marauding runs are a key part to his game, and while his crossing is improving all the time, he even chipped in with the odd goal as Forest targeted promotion last season.
Scoring at the Holte End as Villa and Forest played out one of the games of the season in the 2018-19 campaign that saw Smith’s side seal Premier League promotion through the play-offs, is hopefully a sign of things to come for Cash, who netted 12 goals over the last two seasons.
His athletic efficiencies are evidently helping out Villa this season and certainly, they’ve helped him personally adapt to the top-flight. Cash holds all the attributes to be a success, and with the opportunities, Smith will hand him, he’ll more than likely take them too having earned the chance of making it in the Premier League.
Smith was keen to secure his man after reportedly making four bids and after lengthy negotiations, Forest’s valuation seems fair. Cash is a quick learner having adapted to his new position very quickly, and in general, playing Championship football for four seasons under several different managers.
Smith wants results on the pitch, but equally, he wants to develop his players like at Walsall and Brentford. Cash suits his desirable profile being a player capable of improving season after season.
With four wins from four, Cash has been a major part of Villa’s early season form.
Villa’s first signing of the 2020 summer window might have come later than expected, but securing the services of Cash has already turned out to be one worth waiting for. He’s got all the hallmarks of a player capable of becoming a fan favourite at Villa Park for many years to come.