It’s August, the World Cup has finished and I’m still overly enthusiastic to watch a game of football after a three week absence. It can only be that time of year: pre-season.
Manchester United are playing in their American tour and its stupid o clock in the morning: "It’s okay I’m not working until 2pm, sure I’ll get a pizza while I’m at it.”
The starting line-up is a 3-5-2 under new boss Louis van Gaal and I see Ashley Young is lined up as a wing-back. Young???
The first thing that came to my mind was this overpaid, overhyped, English player whose career has basically gone down the drain. At 29 years of age he was only holding back the likes of Adnan Januazi and other young players of getting some game time.
The guy had been at Old Trafford long to enough to show what he could do and it was clear from his first season that he was not up to standard.
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Flash back to 2007 and it was a very different image of the Stevenage native. Young was a striker and part of a Watford side who had earned promotion to the Premier League in a fantastic season which saw his contribute with 15 goals to his side’s fantastic campaign under Aidy Boothrood.
In their promotion season, Young displayed abilities of taking on full-backs, crossing the ball with accuracy, smashing the ball into the back of the net from 30 yards out, bending in free-kicks and basically becoming his side’s key player at the tender age of 21.
He was emerging as the brightest prospect in English football, no doubt about it Ashley Young was a force and a name to be reckoned with.
Premier League move
It wasn’t long before interest emerged in Young and a record breaking £9.75 million move to a then strong Aston Villa side ensued.
Young’s ability and potential were clear, but his character was to be tested at Villa, and it wasn’t long before he established himself as one of the key players in Martin O’Neil’s side.
His career moved in a consistent direction of upwards as an England call up followed after a bright start with Villa. The suspicions of Young becoming a big money flop at Villa Park were quickly diminished when he became a fans favourite in a strong Villa side which finished sixth under O’Neil, after some poor results towards the end of the season cost them a Champions League spot.
During the 2010–11 season, Young became vice-captain of the club and played in a new free role behind the striker, allowing him to move from wing to wing and through the centre.
Old Trafford chance
His maturity as a player saw Manchester United come in for a bid and a fee in between £15-20 million succeeded.
It was clear that Sir Alex Ferguson was looking to build a side of young English talent as he also recruited Phil Jones from Blackburn Rovers, and began to blood the likes of Tom Cleverly and Danny Welbeck in the same season.
Young’s United career started reasonably well, as he scored goals against Arsenal and West Brom, as well as knocking in a couple in pre-season, however for United fans the jury was still out on the winger.
As time went on, Young began to pick up injury after injury and never managed to gain a spot in the starting line-up. He had arrived from Villa as being the main man in a project, to being a squad player for one of the biggest clubs in the world.
His cause of course was not helped by his injuries. When Young returned from injuries and featured his play was sloppy and ineffectual. Most of his crosses were hitting off the full-backs, he wasn’t scoring goals and his work rate was seriously questionable.
In short, he was a very frustrating player. His transfer fee and reportedly large £118,000-a-week wages didn’t help United fans paint a positive image of the winger.
It wasn’t only United fans who noticed this and Young, who has been capped 30 times by his country lost not only his starting place in the England set up, but also his place in the squad.
Flash forward to the beginning of this season and you can see why I was sick of looking at this guy.
“Cut our losses, and sell this fella” I thought to myself, “he’s had his chance and he’s simply not good enough.”
But there was something different about Ashley Young that night. Something I hadn’t seen in his game since he was an Aston Villa player.
He has desire in him. This is the same Ashley Young who was told by Watford as a youth that he was not good enough, only to convince his coaches he was and to earn himself a professional contract. He would now have to do the same for the sake of his United career.
It was now or never for Young.
Any club he moved on to would have been a step down and he would never have the opportunity to play at a club with the magnitude of Manchester United again.
Deployed as a left wing back, Young charged up the pitch with purpose and determination, before tracking back like his life depended on it when his team was defending.
Granted, his overall performance was average however I did notice a significant improvement in his attitude, Van Gaal had tinkered something in him.
Young, as usual suffered yet another injury before the beginning of the season and again he was on the comeback trail, however when he remerged and the 3-5-2 remerged, he was yet again deployed at left wing back.
I was excited to see how he would do, would I see the Ashley Young that I saw at stupid o clock that night with the pizza? Or the Ashley Young that I have been swearing at for the last four years?
In the end, I got something even better. I saw this confident, all action, exciting looking Ashley Young who had completely re-created himself.
His crossing, his dribbling, and work rate it had all gone up 50%. His improvement had been inhuman. It was like watching a new player, and it was outstanding.
Young is arguably United’s most consistent performer this season, after some fantastic games have seen him nail down a starting place for the first time in his United career.
Indeed he has Luke Shaw breathing down his neck, but one thing is for sure it will be a tough battle to get him out of the side, and his two footed abilities will certainly aid him if he wishes to move to right wing back.
There is no doubt about it, Ashley Young is back, and better than ever.
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