After Saturday’s 2-2 draw between Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers, Martin O’Neill was up to his old tricks again apropos Ashley Young. The Villa and England winger had a decent game, creating the first goal for John Carew, and generally giving Wolves right-back Ronald Zubar a torrid afternoon. However, after the game, Martin O’Neill’s praise of Young left many scratching their heads,
O’Neill told the Times: “Ashley was exceptional, he was mesmeric. He made the first goal but his overall performance was top-class. He delivered so many dangerous crosses.”
Young’s performance certainly stood out in what was otherwise a disappointing performance from Aston Villa. However, upon reading O’Neill’s description of Young’s performance, you cannot help but hear the sound of straw clasping. O’Neill’s praise of Young in the past has been so over elaborate and misrepresentative of the player, it is easy for outsiders to accuse Young of being overrated. Against Wolves, Ashley Young was concise and effective, but ‘mesmeric’? No.
Arguably, it was O’Neill’s post match analysis of Young’s performance against Everton last season that has led many to question the progress Young has made. After a scintillating performance from Young, in which he bagged two goals, O’Neill compared his player to Lionel Messi. Asked if he thought Young was as good the little Argentine, O’Neil replied:
“Yes. In my opinion. I see a lot of games in Europe, I watch a lot of football, and you see a lot of players in the game who are very functional.
“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.”
Mesmeric? Absolutely exceptional? These are surely not the words that Aston Villa fans would use to describe their talisman. A more fitting appraisal would read ‘occasionally mesmeric’ or ‘known to be exceptional from time to time, if he’s in the mood’. Far too often this season, Young has not been in the mood however, and it would be nice to hear O’Neill give his talented winger a kick up the ol’ behind.
Young has scored a respectable eight goals this season, four coming in the league, with two each in the League Cup and Europa League. He is a hardworking player, offering excellent cover to Stephen Warnock, and his graft for the team is often overlooked. Further, his ability to beat a player and his delivery from a dead-ball situation can be devastating. However, unlike Aaron Lennon for example, who had found some sort of consistency earlier this season, Young has rarely looked like recapturing the mid-season form he displayed last term, and appears to be stagnating at present.
On Saturday, some of the crosses Young sent flying in to the opposition box were world class. However, too often, he fails to beat the first man from a corner, or looks short of ideas if shown onto his left foot when attacking the fullback. Despite his assist on Saturday coming from a left footed cross after beating Zubar on the outside, this is the exception rather than the rule. For example, both Lennon and Milner have more assists this season than Ashley Young, despite Lennon spending half the season injured, and Milner now shackled with defensive responsibility in the centre of midfield.
With David Beckham now ruled out of the World Cup, and Aaron Lennon struggling to regain full fitness, Young has been gifted with the ideal opportunity to earn a place in Capello’s World Cup squad. With Fabio sitting in the stands at Villa Park on Saturday, Young’s return to form could not have been timed better. However, one match does not make a player, and Capello has run the rule over Young in the past only to be disappointed.
If Young really is as good as Martin O’Neill would have us believe, perhaps it’s time the real Ashley Young stood up to be counted. The player clearly has it all there in his locker, but far too often, he seems to forget the combination. Young could be a potential world beater in South Africa this summer, but could still spend June and July with his feet up on a beach in Dubai… his destination still in his own hands.
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