FLINT INTERVIEW IN DAILY MIRROR
EXCLUSIVE: Aden Flint aiming to emulate Man Utd success after taking on new challenge at Mansfield
Mansfield Town defender Aden Flint has enjoyed Carabao Cup success in the past, and the veteran is aiming to make the latter stages of the competition again with his new club
mirror.co.uk, By Dan Marsh, 31 Oct 2023
There's not much that Aden Flint hasn't experienced since starting his career in non-league while doing a touch of tarmacking on the sides.
Since then, the 34-year-old has played in the Championship, won promotion at Wembley and experienced just about all of the highs and lows football has to offer in between.
However, this summer brought about a new experience when Flint became a free agent. There was, he feels, a reluctance from clubs at a higher level to take a chance on a player who is now in the twilight of his career. That's despite the fact that Flint - prior to a difficult year at Stoke - had established himself as a Championship mainstay across seven seasons with the likes of Bristol City, Middlesbrough and Cardiff.
But an enticing opportunity would eventually reveal itself to Flint in the form of Mansfield Town: a local club that failed in their attempts to sign him earlier in his career.
"Mansfield really made me feel wanted. That's nice, especially at my age," Flint tells Mirror Football. "I'm local to the area so I know what the club is about. There's been interest before when I was in non-league, but it never really happened. I know the gaffer, too, and he was a big factor in me joining."
Flint spent the second half of last season on loan at Sheffield Wednesday, making 18 appearances in a campaign that culminated in promotion via the play-offs after one of the most epic comebacks in history against Peterborough.
His stint at Hillsborough failed to yield interest from clubs higher up the pyramid, but Flint, who forged his own path in the game via non-league as a teenager, had no reservations about dropping down to League Two when interest from Mansfield materialised.
"Me dropping down is not a negative: I just wanted to play regular football at a team doing the right things. It depends on how much you want to play football; I think some people have got a bit of football snobbery where they don't want to drop down because they think they're better than that. But those people then might find themselves without clubs - that could have easily been me.
"In terms of not feeling wanted, it was a difficult one because I went on loan from Stoke to Sheffield Wednesday, played games and helped them get promotion, which I thought might help me stay a bit higher. But listen, I'm really enjoying where I am now and I don't want to look at what could have been."
Mansfield missed out on the play-offs courtesy of goal difference last year. It was play-off final heartbreak against Port Vale the year before that. While the Stags aren't exactly damaged goods, Flint was joining a club who were very much battling the demons of seasons past back.
However, Nigel Clough's side have started the campaign in a manner which suggests they may finally be in a position to exorcise said demons. Clough, whose father became almost synonymous with success with clubs local to Mansfield, has yet to see his side lose this term.
Mansfield sit just a point outside the promotion spots in third position and will leapfrog both Wrexham and Notts County should they win their game-in-hand.
There have been more draws (eight) than wins (seven) from Mansfield's 15 games so far, but there have been statement results, too. They are one of just three teams who have inflicted defeat on league leaders Stockport County this term. And after falling behind against Notts County earlier this month, Mansfield showcased both grit and guile to annihilate their local rivals 4-1.
Those results, in Flint's eyes, emphasise that this Mansfield team are the real deal. He has captained the side for the majority of their imperious run and has three goal contributions in as many games after scoring in the win over Walsall at the weekend.
"Stockport are flying at the minute: we beat them and they've not lost at home since. Notts County too. It just shows we're up there with the best in the league. Hopefully, we can keep going and achieve what we want to achieve at the end of the season.
"This is a really good changing room, but I'm sure loads of places have got great changing rooms - it doesn't matter if you're not doing the business on the pitch. Sometimes you just get that feeling [that something special is brewing]. I've got a really positive feeling here, but I had that before I signed too.
"Hopefully I can help the club get where they want to get, which is promotion. That's an ideal challenge for me at this stage of my career."
Promotion may be the ultimate goal for the Stags, but the rewards that a spot in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals would bring are firmly in the sights of Flint and co ahead of Tuesday night's meeting with League One strugglers Port Vale.
The veteran defender was an integral part of the Bristol City team which enjoyed a marauding run to the semi-finals of the competition back in the 2017/18 season. The Robins left the likes of Manchester United trailing in their wake before succumbing to the inevitable juggernaut that is Manchester City over two legs.
Flint has a rich footballing resume which includes two promotions to the Championship and an EFL Trophy winners medal. But it's the memories of that dream run - and the opportunity to lock horns with the riches of both Manchester clubs - which stand above all others.
"For me, the Man United win and the Man City games over two legs are probably the best games I've ever been involved in, but the run to get there was unreal. We beat Watford, Stoke and Crystal Palace, too.
"We've got an equally tough match against Port Vale, but it is a great incentive, to get that quarter-final tie and hopefully a big draw. We see it as just another game at this point but we're looking forward to it. Hopefully, we can get through and get a good draw."
The Stags may be the lowest-ranked team remaining in the competition, but Flint knows better than most that there is plenty of merit in being the underdog.
Given that memories of his last great run in this competition are cherished so highly, it should come as no surprise that Flint is disenchanted with tentative plans to do away with the competition's two-legged semi-finals. It's also believed that canning third and fourth round replays in the FA Cup will soon be on English football's agenda.
"For the teams in the top of the Premier League with the fixture congestion, I can see where they're coming from, of course. But for teams lower down, like ourselves, we could have an unbelievable game at home, draw it and then have the chance to play at a bigger stadium, which could be a dream.
"Say you're a Newcastle fan and you then get the chance to go and play at St. James Park in the second leg - it's a good day out and it helps the club financially as well. The clubs always benefit from it.
"I don't think you can change it; I think you've got to stick with how it's been all along. I think the two-legged games [in the Carabao Cup] are fair. I don't think it should change."