How Ashley Young became one of Jose Mourinho’s go to men at Manchester United

Following his inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s 23-man England squad for the FIFA World Cup, it seems appropriate to look at how Ashley Young’s Manchester United career has fluctuated.

Before joining United, Young flourished at both Watford and Aston Villa, where he put in consistently strong performances, earning him the accolade of PFA Young Player of the Year in 2009. He was given a more central role at Villa after enjoying success from wide for much of his career. This was reversed when he joined United as he returned to a wider position. Although he initially saw a lot of game time under Sir Alex Ferguson, injuries stunted his development in Ferguson’s final season at the club.

Under David Moyes, Young struggled to be the creative influence he could be, and his United career appeared in the balance. However, he turned things around in the following season under Louis van Gaal as he was used more in a more defensive capacity, playing wing-back on either flank.

Young was rewarded for his consistency, signing a new three-year contract in the summer of 2015. Despite consistent performances at right-back in the early months of the season, injury would return to haunt him as a groin issue ruled him out until April. Between April and the end of the season, he struggled to re-establish himself as a certain starter, and the pattern of inconsistent games continued when Jose Mourinho took over in 2016.

It appeared at the beginning of the 2016/17 campaign that Young was not part of Mourinho’s plans for the future, and he could be part of a major operation to shift what some have called ‘dead wood’ from the club. However, with United short of defensive cover, Young’s opportunities began to increase (albeit they were still short of what he’d have liked). He seized these opportunities to impress the manager, who quickly took to Young’s desire to wear the shirt and win in it:

“Ashley is phenomenal, with his attitude, positivity, and determination.”

Although his season was once again ended prematurely, he had done enough to firmly be a part of Jose’s plans for the 2017/18 campaign. He has managed to make the left-back position his own, starting over Luke Shaw, Matteo Darmian, and Daley Blind despite the Englishman turning 33 this year. He has turned himself into a reliable full-back, putting in stellar defensive displays and still contributing to attacks in the way which first caught Sir Alex’s eye.

This was best seen in his performance against Watford in November when he bagged a brace which included an unbelievable free-kick from all of 30 yards. Young has come in for much criticism during parts of his United career. This has included the wrath of United icon Roy Keane, who said:

“If Ashley Young is a Manchester United player, I’m a Chinaman.”

This came after a Champions League game in 2015, but a call-up to England’s World Cup squad for this summer shows how far Young has come since then. He’s become a crucial part of the dressing room at the club too, taking the captaincy on various occasions. Alongside Michael Carrick, he was instrumental in inspiring the comeback at the Etihad in April, taking charge of the dressing room at half-time and reminding the players of their responsibilities. With Carrick retiring, Young’s experience and desire will become even more pivotal to the squad.

Young is certainly in contention to start in Russia, and his form this season would warrant it.

Written by Rob Potter

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