Resurgent Young back from the brink
Published 04/04/2015 | 02:30
When Louis van Gaal took Ashley Young to one side in Los Angeles last July, it was probably the moment the Manchester United winger had been dreading ever since the Dutchman was appointed manager two months earlier.
After he had been frozen out by David Moyes and discarded by England manager Roy Hodgson, the tap on the shoulder from Van Gaal appeared destined to lead to further rejection for the 29-year-old.
But rather than tell the £16m signing from Aston Villa in 2011 that his time at United was up, Van Gaal instead made it clear that he regarded him as one of his senior players and urged him to grasp the responsibility that comes with status and experience.
From fearing he was one step from the exit door, Young was suddenly a central figure in the manager's plans and, as he prepares to face his former club at Old Trafford today, he will know he has benefited more from Van Gaal's time in charge than any other player.
Marouane Fellaini has surprised many with his renaissance this season, but Young's resurrection arguably surpasses the Belgian's because few at United initially expected much of the former Everton midfielder.
Young, according to Alex Ferguson in his autobiography, was "signed to replace Ryan Giggs", yet he ended last season fighting a losing battle on and off the pitch, with supporters angered by his reputation for diving.
Moyes' failure to defend Young publicly after he was booked for diving against Crystal Palace in September 2013 damaged the pair's relationship, with sources close to the player bemused by what they regarded as a tactless approach by the Scot.
But, with Van Gaal robustly defending Young after a similar incident at Sunderland this season, in which the United player was again booked, the trust which did not exist between Moyes and Young was secured.
When he names his team to face Villa today, Van Gaal is again likely to select Young ahead of Angel di Maria on United's left flank, which will offer further proof of the Englishman's return to favour.
Young's readiness to embrace a wing-back role handed to him by Van Gaal during the pre-season tour of the United States, having never previously played in the position, impressed the manager, with the player admitting he was determined to safeguard his future at the club.
"When the manager asked us to do a job at the start of the season, he was honest and truthful in what he wanted to do," Young said.
"He told us that we would all get a chance and that made it down to the players to show him exactly what you are about.
"And in pre-season, I basically went out there to show the manager that I was capable of playing, whether it was as a winger or as a wing-back.
"I don't think my confidence had gone or was affected by not playing last season, but I just wasn't playing.
"When I was left out, it was really disappointing, but it is all about how you react to that and when a new manager comes in - he may have seen players and watched them, but not know everything about them until he works with them."
With Van Gaal now having abandoned the 3-5-2 system, in which Young played at wing-back, in favour of 4-3-3, Young's greater defensive awareness has enabled him to edge £59.7m British-record signing Angel di Maria out of the starting line-up.
His performances have helped Young regain the backing of the club's supporters.
An England recall is also being mooted ahead of the summer fixtures against the Republic of Ireland and Slovenia and a new United contract, which seemed unthinkable 12 months ago, is now expected to be offered to replace the final year of his current deal.
A contract extension would take Young into his 30s at United and he admits that the seniority Van Gaal urged him to use wisely is now a crucial part of his game.
"I was looking around and thinking I was in the top six or seven who have been here the longest now," Young said.
"When you've got Vida [Nemanja Vidic], Rio [Ferdinand] and [Patrice] Evra leaving, individuals who were not only big characters but captains, people have to step up and take over that mantle and it has definitely happened."
Another player to benefit from Van Gaal's arrival at Old Trafford is Marouane Fellaini, with the United manager declaring that the Belgian has made himself an indispensable member of his side.
Fellaini was the whipping boy of David Moyes's reign following his £27.5m transfer from Everton, but Van Gaal has overseen a transformation in him.
"When he plays as he does now, I cannot change him. I have heard a lot of stories about him but, from the first training session, he did what I asked. He was open and he wants to perform, so I am not surprised with his form," said the United manager. (© Daily Telegraph, London)