Ashley Young of Manchester United and England. While any player wearing the United red is usually not appreciated by England fans, he is also a divisive figure amongst reds. Unquestionably, he is a great character to have around any squad, what he provides off the pitch in terms of leadership and squad unity is rare in this day and age. He is very much a man of a bygone era. In this modern era of football however, fans generally don’t appreciate these qualities, opting to prefer players who have better statistics on the latest FIFA game. But do the likes of Jose Mourinho and Gareth Southgate see something form him on the pitch that fans do not?
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In terms of defensive statistics, Youngy is right up there with the best of Premier League left backs. Taking his primary competitor for the England left back berth (and often mooted United replacement), Danny Rose, Young has him beat in nearly every category. More than double the chances created, four times the assists, two goals vs zero from Rose, 24 to 7 on tackles won, 51 to 6 on interceptions, and 70 (yes SEVENTY) to 14 on clearances. It’s worthwhile to take into account Rose has significantly less game time, but even in the per 90 minutes statistics Young has him beat in most categories. Young is quite dependable on the ball too, with no errors leading to goals this season and a solid 80% pass accuracy.
One of the most praised left backs in the Premier League this season was Andrew Robertson of Liverpool, yet looking at what they both offer on the pitch, statistically they are very similar. Young has better statistics in defensive categories such as tackles won, interceptions and clearances, while he also has more goals, and only trails him by one assist (four to Robertson’s five).
It could be that preconceived notions of Young being picked by Mourinho and Southgate because he is the elder statesman and what he offers off the pitch are completely wrong. Maybe Young isn’t a natural left back, maybe he isn’t the fastest, strongest, most skilful or aesthetically pleasing player. But the facts are that he gets the job done. There’s a lot to be said for having natural width at full-back, but both Mourinho and Southgate have such players at their disposal, but Shaw and Rose are both respectively less desirable options.
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In the England vs Belgium World Cup game, former red Adnan Januzaj perhaps showed us exactly why Young is first choice for United and England. In what was almost a friendly match, Southgate gave Rose an opportunity to win a place in his first choice team, only for the Belgian to beat Rose on the inside and curl a beautiful shot in the top corner. If right sided Ashley Young is marking him as opposed to the left sided Rose, Januzaj wouldn’t have had the time or space to take that shot.
Yes, Young makes our team more narrow as he doesn’t provide natural width, and I get it, there is nothing more frustrating than seeing someone in a great crossing position, but for them to cut back in on their right foot. I can also only imagine how frustrating it is for Lukaku. But perhaps it’s time to look beyond what Young cannot give us and focus on what he can… both off the pitch and on it.