It seems only a few moments ago that this now young superstar was being released by Watford as a 17-year-old, seemingly struggling to make the grade as a footballer. Ashley Young was in a place where many aspiring footballers had been – small for his age and low in confidence, Young was about to be released by the Hornets. However, persistent training meant he was given a chance at his dream and what a dream it has turned out to be.
Since joining Aston Villa in January 2007, he has not looked back. With solid performances in the latter part of the season, he was being earmarked as the next big thing at Villa Park. Although he is naturally right footed, Martin O’Neill has turned him into a left winger who seemingly dances past defenders and is now firmly established as one of the best crossers of a ball in the Premier League.
At the end of the 2007/08 season he was named in the FA Team of the Year, where he and David James were the only players picked that had not been playing for the top four teams. After such an impressive campaign for Aston Villa, Young’s next campaign with the Villains would be the biggest test of his career to date. Would he be able to live up to his growing reputation? The answer was unanimous – Young’s scintillating displays last term set the Premier League alight along with his club and country team-mate, Gabriel Agbonlahor. Until ten games left of the season, Villa was hanging onto fourth and more crucially a Champions League spot. It wasn’t long before the England manager, Fabio Capello was seemingly acquiring his own seat at Villa Park, with the core of Villa’s team being English. The likes of Gareth Barry, Curtis Davies, Agbonlahor and Young all having ambitions of breaking into Capello’s plans, so it was certainly the place to be for the wily Italian.
Due to Gareth Barry’s departure to Manchester City this summer, Young is now a real contender to be named the club captain of Villains at the tender age of 24, – what an achievement that could be and if he does decide to stay with the club, who knows what he can achieve, personally and collectively. Its all been a stunning transition for the former Watford man, when thinking only eight years ago he was struggling to make the grade, and now, the world is well and truly at his feet. The Villa manager, recently likened his wing sensation to the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – a view shared by very few others, but it will do no harm to his confidence.
Although Villa’s assault on the top four began to fizzle out, the performances of Young continued to sparkle and he was picked for England’s friendlies and qualifiers for his superb endeavours. On November 16 2007, Young finally made his international debut, coming on as a half-time substitute for the Three Lions in a friendly against Austria. He has since appeared against Germany in another friendly a year later, coming on as a second half substitute. Although he is not a regular it surely cannot be too long before he becomes one of the first names of on the England team sheet. His pace and skill means that he is a danger to any defence and his covering back for the team is unquestionable. With O’Neill as his mentor, he could not be under better guidance and who knows, the Villa manager may one day be guiding him as England manager.
With another season like the past two, he will surely be on the plane to South Africa for next summer’s World Cup and he could be the spark that can provide Capello’s England with the chance of bringing the Jules Rimet trophy home. It will certainly be a surprise to many football fans if Young is not on that plane come next June. After two years of sensational performances, he must certainly deserve a shot on the national stage. At the moment it is difficult to think of a better winger in England – there are a few contenders but can they compare to Young’s consistency and quality?
David Beckham is still a great footballer and one of the best crossers and set-piece takers to grace the game but his ageing legs surely puts him below Young in the pecking order. Fellow speedster Theo Walcott – a shock pick for the last World Cup, is clearly a star in the making, but his recent inconsistency and niggling injuries have set the Arsenal winger back somewhat. Joe Cole has been England’s favoured left wing option in recent years, but long injury lay-off’s and a tough Chelsea team to make his mark on once again could prove difficult for him to play his way back into the England fold.
Villa has many stars which should turn into future England internationals and Ashley Young is the main contender to lead that group into Capello’s plans.