Since his arrival from Aston Villa for a fee of between £15-20million, Ashley Young has endured a love-hate relationship with Manchester United supporters.
Most hardcore United fans understand the importance the 29-year-old winger has played in sides managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and more recently Louis van Gaal. But a large portion of the club’s supporters have continually greeted news of the player’s inclusion in United’s matchday squad with disdain and condemnation. No matter who the manager was, fans believed there had to be a better option on the wing than Ashley Young.
Perhaps the player’s price tag played a role in the unfair analysis from some supporters. But Young can’t be blamed for the price which was agreed to by the two Premier League clubs for his services.
He also was never going to be Cristiano Ronaldo or Ryan Giggs running down the wings for United.
What the 29-year-old winger has provided is average-to-above average service on crosses, speed on the wings and defensive coverage for United’s full-backs.
For whatever the cost, he has been a solid professional since arriving at Old Trafford and played a role in the United side which won the club’s twentieth English title in 2012-13.
This summer, Young’s name was one of many mentioned with a possible exit from the Theatre of Dreams. But Louis van Gaal quickly quieted those rumors after electing to use the player at wing-back during United’s preseason friendlies in the United States.
Young – and fellow-winger Antonio Valencia – began to see a ton of playing time in the Dutch manager’s 3-5-2 system which featured the use of wing-backs as defensive support for a back-three. And both players surprised many critics by taking to their new roles at the club with relative ease.
Of course there have been moments of confusion which have lead to occasional mistakes and goals early on. But Young’s professionalism and workman-like attitude has seen him remain a fixture in Louis van Gaal’s starting eleven, despite the manager having to chop and change United’s lineup and formation due to injuries.
Young has started ten times this season and made two appearances off the bench. The only time United have lost with Young in the lineup was during their opening match of the season against Swansea. Since that time, the club has won seven and drawn four with Young in the squad.
The winger/wing-back hasn’t been immune to the injury-bug which has plagued United this season. He has had separate stints in the stands due to hamstring and groin issues.
But the combination of his return to fitness and an injury to left-back Luke Shaw against Arsenal have seen Young return to United’s starting eleven, and the player has had some standout performances in recent weeks.
With Van Gaal electing to return to the 3-5-2 formation against Arsenal, United have only conceded five times in the past eight matches. Young has started all of those matches with the exception of the club’s 2-1 win at the Emirates – where he came on as a replacement for Shaw after fifteen minutes.
Opposing managers have looked to take advantage of Young’s lack of size, physicality and defensive pedigree in recent matches; but the wing-back has turned the tables and caused more problems going forward for United’s opponents while holding his own on the other side of the pitch.
For now, Young has quieted the Manchester United’s ‘boo-boys’.
When the club releases its starting eleven prior to each match, his name is no longer greeted with immediate scorn from a large section of United fans.
Of course positive results have played a role in the change of heart with some supporters. But it’s also a sign that Young is finally being appreciated for his selflessness and professionalism at the club.
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