Aden Flint: Mansfield, learning from Clough and football snobbery

After taking his first step into the EFL with Swindon at the start of 2011, Aden Flint spent the bulk of the next 12 years playing in the Sky Bet Championship.

He had three seasons in the second tier with Bristol City, one with Middlesbrough and another three with Cardiff before he joined Stoke on a one-year deal in June 2022.

As a vastly experienced defender brought in to try and turn around the Potters years of underachievement since relegation from the Premier League, unsurprisingly, he started four of the first six league games under Michael O’Neill.

When Alex Neil replaced the Northern Irishman, that changed – and Neil’s decision to drop Flint put him on a path he might not have otherwise expected to be on at this point in his career.

“I’ve been in that situation before at Cardiff, so I knew what I was expecting,” he tells Sky Sports, speaking ahead of the Stags’ game against Colchester on Saturday, which is live on Sky Sports Football.

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“Listen, if a manager has got his own ideas and he doesn’t see you in the team or the plans, that’s fine – I can absolutely understand that.

“It’s just about getting your head down and working hard; if you’re not going to be playing for the team, you’ve just got to do it for yourself and keep yourself ready if and when the opportunity comes.”

The opportunity did come when Sheffield Wednesday – for whom he had appeared four times on loan in 2020/21 – gave him an out for the second half of last term.

At Hillsborough, he won his fourth promotion. But the shock departure of Darren Moore as manager put paid to possibilities of earning a contract.

“I was a free agent for the first time in my career, which was really strange,” admits Flint. “I wasn’t really attracting the interest I’ve had before in my career, which was new to me – and I don’t mean that in a bad way.

“Given the way football is going, teams are wanting younger, more ball-playing centre-halves than what I am.

“It was a strange situation to be in, but I stayed patient and stayed fit all summer doing what I had to do on my own. It was tough, at times.”

There was interest from the continent – Poland, to be exact – and Flint says he could have “held out for a club in League One or maybe the Championship”, but then, two days before the start of the EFL season, he signed a one-year deal at Mansfield in League Two.

From the outside, it was two steps down, but the chance to work with a manager with as much experience as former England international Nigel Clough enticed him to the One Call Stadium.

“It was the main factor of me coming to Mansfield,” Flint continues.

“I could probably have signed for him when he was at Derby, which was many moons ago, before I went to Swindon. There was interest from Derby, but the asking price from the non-league team I was at was too much for them or something.

“It’s good that I’m with him now, at the stage of my career I’m at, with the experience I’ve got. He’s vastly experienced as well and it’s helping me because, still at 34, I’m keen to learn every day and keep playing as long as I can.”

In an interview with the Daily Mirror back in October, Flint spoke about the “football snobbery” of other professionals who let their pride get in the way, instead of continuing their careers at a lower level.

Reminded of that point, the 34-year-old – who had no qualms about extending his contract until the summer of 2025 in January – adds: “To me, it doesn’t seem like a drop down because I’m still playing at a good level in a team that is doing well and winning football games. That’s all you want, really.”

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Mansfield manager Nigel Clough discusses ‘marquee signing’ Aden Flint and the impact he’s had since joining the club on a free transfer last summer. 

It is no wonder Flint is enjoying it – he has played in every single one of Mansfield’s 47 games this season to date, during which time they have established one of the best defensive records in the country.

No team in League Two has conceded fewer than them (36), while only Portsmouth, Derby, Leeds and Leicester have shipped fewer in the EFL.

“Considering I was signed two days before the first game of the season, it couldn’t have gone any better,” adds Flint.

“We lost Alfie Kilgour early in the season to an Achilles injury, which probably helped because I wasn’t expecting to come in and play. I don’t expect to play any game, playing is on merit.

“Defence is our fundamental. If we can keep clean sheets, we know we’re going to have a chance of winning the game.

We’ve got a great goal difference and had a great February, scoring a ridiculous amount of goals in a couple of home games, which was bizarre. Goals win you games, but clean sheets win you championships.”

Fortune is on his side so much this term that a partial dislocation of his shoulder away at AFC Wimbledon has not disrupted his flow.

“I had a tangle of legs with the striker and I fell on it with both arms outstretched above my head and my right shoulder came out for some reason. It was bizarre,” Flint recalls.

“It was hanging out of the socket and the paramedics had to grab my arm and sling it back in! There’s no major damage there and we’re just managing it at the minute.

“I’ve got to be careful in the week training and just do the right exercises in the gym to maintain and keep on top of the strength around my shoulder to keep it in. We’ll reassess at the end of the season if I have to have surgery.”

Speaking of championships, Mansfield are top of League Two, four points clear with eight games left to play. Saturday’s win over Bradford took them past the 70-point mark for the third season in succession.

They finished seventh in 2021/22 and lost to Port Vale in the play-off final at Wembley, then eighth last term, with Salford pipping them to a play-off place on goal difference alone.

With their loftier position this time around, as well as the hard lessons dealt to them, a return to the third tier 21 years after their relegation from Division Two in 2003, arguably, looks closer than ever.

And Flint is enjoying being the target everyone wants to shoot down.

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Watch highlights of the Sky Bet League Two match between Bradford and Mansfield.

We’re just going about our business quietly, ticking off each game as it comes, getting three points if we can. We’re where we want to be at the moment and we want to stay there.

“When you get to the top of the table, you’ve got a target on your back and everyone wants to beat you.

“You play football to get medals. There’s a lot of football to be played before now and the end of the season and I’m sure there’s going to be more ups and downs and twists and turns before now and then.

“I know it’s a cliche, but it’s eight cup finals to get us where we want to get.”

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