As part of my weekly feature titled ‘Manchester United Transfer Index’, we will look at the future of another winger enjoying a new lease of life at full-back, England International Ashley Young.
Arguably, the most defining and memorable Ashley Young moment of 2017/18 was the utter disbelief in Mourinho’s face when he saw the 32-year old smash a free kick from 25 yards out to double Manchester United’s lead at his former home in Watford – silencing the crowd as he did the doubters within the Man United fan base. He turned the clock back on the day – by literally pinging the ball into the top corner off his sweet spot on the outside of his right foot, leaving the goalkeeper bemused.
That was the Ashley Young of Aston Villa fame – the attacking winger who never hesitated to try something outrageous and off-the-cuff. The Ashley Young that Sir Alex Ferguson saw fit to bring in – to add to his squad.
Under Louis van Gaal and more so under Mourinho, the winger has reinvented himself in a deeper role but somehow managed to retain some of his core abilities that have established him as a good Premier League footballer; tricky on his day.
From his early days of effervescence on the ball without any real framework to his game, Ashley Young, with age and experience, has morphed into a reliable full-back at Old Trafford – raking in over 35 appearances in all competitions for Manchester United in a fairly taxing campaign. He has played over 2700 minutes of football for Manchester United (6th highest in the squad), even captaining the side at times, which goes to show the trust his manager has placed in him – the one form of currency that is hard to earn under the Portuguese.
However, Young has his limitations going forward. Despite being able to put in a shift when called upon in virtually any position, Mourinho is at the stage of his career at Manchester United where he has to make tangible progress in the Premier League – which is the ultimate yardstick for players and managers alike these days. He is not dynamic enough on the ball that is required of a modern-day elite fullback nor is he a consistently good crosser, which has had a mixed impact at United this season.
In that, whenever Young has been good, delivered good crosses in, United have generally fared better, scored goals and won games, reinforcing the need of a genuinely top quality fullback with a younger pair of legs next season to supply enough ammunition for the forwards to fire on all cylinders. When Young has struggled – the team has looked shot of imagination and creativity in the final third. United’s defeat at Spurs away from home in the league is a testament to that hypothesis.
It is somewhat ironic that Ashley Young being one of the few players in the side that has clearly improved under Mourinho will have to be replaced next season if United were to close the widening gap in Manchester.
His dedication to keeping fit and the never-say-die attitude have stood him in good stead at Manchester United and now England – with the 32-year old, after a 4-year absence, returning to the national team for the World Cup in Russia which will undoubtedly do him a world of good for his confidence.
But the real motivator for Young will come in the form of a new signing for Manchester United at left back – giving him that little bit of competition for a role in the starting eleven – which he has not had this season – to set himself on a path towards another round of revival and rediscovery.
Verdict: Keep (As Squad Player)