London (AFP) – After reaching a low point in his Manchester United career last season, Ashley Young is savouring the turnaround that has seen him end a four-year exile from the England squad.
Young was scarcely seen at United during Jose Mourinho’s first season as manager, making only eight Premier League starts and missing out on the club’s Europa League triumph against Ajax.
But he has returned to the starting XI in recent weeks, in a new left wing-back role, and his displays have been sufficiently impressive to earn him a first England call-up since 2013.
“I think there did come a point last season where I wasn’t in the squad, wasn’t even making the 18,” the 32-year-old told reporters at England’s St George’s Park training centre this week.
“It was disappointing, but I have never thought about leaving the club. I’ve always got that determination to get back in the squad and get back playing.”
Young made his name, firstly with Watford and then Aston Villa, as a quicksilver winger and also has experience of playing at number 10.
But he was re-deployed as a full-back or wing-back under former United manager Louis van Gaal and has continued to play there under Mourinho.
While he admits he would rather be playing in a more attacking position, he is proud of the manner in which he has adapted his game.
“As a footballer, you want to play week in, week out,” said Young, who joined United in 2011 and won the Premier League in 2013.
“I’d prefer it if I was playing further up the pitch, but I’ve been able to adapt and play as a left-back or a right-back and as a wing-back.
“I’m one of those players who can read the game well. I’ve got that experience as well to be clever, knowing where to be, when to attack, when to defend.
“It’s been quite easy to adjust to the position and with the help of my team-mates, I feel like I have done it really well.”
– Alli aggro –
England have undergone significant changes since Young won his last cap in a 0-0 draw away to Ukraine in World Cup qualifying in September 2013.
The team that took to the pitch in Kiev featured Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, all of whom have since retired.
Manager Gareth Southgate is attempting to give his side a new identity and has called up three uncapped youngsters for Friday’s friendly against Germany at Wembley and Tuesday’s meeting with Brazil.
Liverpool defender Joe Gomez and the Chelsea pair of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham, currently on loan at Crystal Palace and Swansea City respectively, received their first call-ups.
Young plays alongside two other members of England’s young contingent — Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford — at United and says he is always happy to share the fruits of his experience.
“It’s all changed, players and staff,” Young said of the current England set-up.
“The manager has said he is going with younger players. But he’s also said players who are on form will have a chance to play.
“When I look at the players in this squad, if I can bring experience and help them — just as I do with Marcus and Jesse for my club — there are always players who want to learn.”
One of England’s new lynchpins, Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli, is absent due to injury.
He and Young squared up during United’s 1-0 win over Spurs last month, Alli goading Young about his age and Young responding by taunting Alli over his lack of medals.
Young played down the incident — “Things happen on football pitches” — but when he was reminded that Alli has not got a Premier League winner’s medal, he smiled.
“He hasn’t yet, no.”
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