Footballers are often compared to past players in terms of their style of play and ability, but few Premier League players have been given the glowing praise that Aston Villa’s Ashley Young has. Former manager at Villa Park Martin O’Neill has previously likened the Villa winger to FIFA World Player of the Year and most talented footballer on the planet Lionel Messi, and now Gerrard Houllier has got in on the act by comparing Young to none other than Michael Owen. Young could well be described as a poor man’s Messi, which to be fair any skilful winger is, but Owen? Is Young really that similar to the deadly finisher and who will the Villa star be compared to next?
Ashley Young has been a huge success since he moved to Aston Villa from Watford in 2007 for a fee of £8 million. In the three years since he has racked up over 100 Premier League appearances, contributed more than 20 goals and been the player through which much of Villa’s play goes through. He has helped Villa win games single-handedly and this was the case two seasons ago when they won at Everton. Young’s performance prompted O’Neill to put Young in the same company as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and to say that “Some are decent, some are more than decent and some are very, very good. And then you have the players who are absolutely exceptional. And Ashley Young is absolutely exceptional” (Telegraph). But the comparisons don’t end there…
Now new Aston Villa manager Gerrard Houllier has said that Young is “like a Michael Owen in terms of what he can deliver and produce” (Mirror). The Frenchman went on to say “he reminds me of Owen and he has an eye for a pass as well. A modern player runs which he does and he just doesn’t wait for the ball, he has intelligence.” So Young has the much sought after football brain that Alan Hansen has criticised fellow England winger Theo Walcott for lacking. Houllier is also hinting that he sees Young forming a partnership with Emile Heskey just as Owen did with the big striker at Liverpool. The support striker position is one Young has taken up regualraly this season, with Villa having plenty of wide talent in the shape of Stewart Downing and young Marc Albrighton, so can Young be moulded into a classic number 10?
The World Cup illustrated just how important the support striker was, with Germany’s Mesut Ozil, Holland’s Wesley Sneijder and Diego Forlan of Uruguay three of the outstanding players of the tournament. Given the player comparisons that have already been made of Ashley Young, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him likened to any of these three soon. Largely these comparisons are not helpful and only serve to put pressure on the player and for the media and fans to claim he’s overrated. However, what the thoughts of O’Neill and Houllier show is just how good Young could be, and the tricky winger who can terrorise defenders and has a great delivery will be a key player for Villa this season, as long as they can fight off the attentions of Tottenham and their manager Harry Redknapp.
There is no doubting that Ashley Young is a good player. He’s no Lionel Messi but he is one of the best wingers in the Premier League who could become a devastating support striker. He has everything it takes to reach the very top and is again likely to feature for England in Fabio Capello’s squad next month. That is almost a certainty, what we don’t know is who Young will be compared to next? Wayne Rooney? Who knows?