Never-say-die Ashley Young has shown he must play in biggest matches
Young was arguably the home side’s outstanding player in the opening half against Swansea City
Ashley Young departed Old Trafford after 78 minutes on Saturday to the kind of grateful applause that only a few in a Manchester United shirt can be sure of these days when their number is raised on the touchline.
In the first half of what turned into a 2-1 victory for United over Swansea, Young was arguably the home side’s outstanding player. Certainly, before the break, he was the most consistently determined figure in the team when it came to getting forward down the right side and creating chances, following that with an assist for Anthony Martial early in the second half.
While Martial eventually edged Young as the game’s outstanding player, Louis van Gaal will reflect this week on another major effort from his Englishman. Young will have been a United player for five years come the summer. He is one of a group of seven long-serving squad member at United – five of them English – who have survived the tumult of the post- Alex Ferguson years.
On Saturday he was deployed as more of a wing-back than a full-back, a position to which he has had to adapt to in recent years, and flourished with the greater freedom of the unusual 3-5-1-1 formation.
Young’s form earlier in the season begged the question why he has not been recalled to the England squad for whom he has not appeared since September 2013 and the “dark ages” 0-0 draw with Ukraine. But the reality is that England have moved on since then, Roy Hodgson has introduced a new generation of players, to whom he has been loyal whenever possible. He did want to call up Young in June but the player was injured.
More remarkable has been Young’s longevity for United, a club who can pay for just about any player in the world – and often do. He was given a new contract in August, and since then has taken his opportunity when presented. He came off on Saturday with a stiffness, Van Gaal said, borne of the fact he has started United’s last four games.
Despite that, Young’s tenacity in a moment of crisis for his manager was admirable. Although he has occasionally borne the brunt of fans’ frustrations, Young has shown himself to be a player who has hung in there when the going gets tough. The Stevenage boy was rejected by Watford as a teenager but kept training with the club and eventually convinced them to offer him a contract.
That single-mindedness has served him well at United in the years of uncertainty since Ferguson left. At 30, he may not be there to see better times return to Old Trafford but he will have played a part in getting them through the bad times.
When Young first arrived in the summer of 2011, he looked comfortable with the demands of being a United player under their most famous ever manager. Now, as they struggle for a new identity, Young has demonstrated that, unlike others, he has the mentality to play in must-win games, even if they happen to be against Swansea rather than more famous names.