It was certainly no shock when Ashley Young swapped Villa Park for Old Trafford in the summer for the relatively cheap sum of £17 million. Considering players at the same level or below were going for grossly inflated prices it seemed that Sir Alex Ferguson had pulled off a coup in landing the England winger for such a paltry fee. A blistering start to his Manchester United career, including three goals in four games, has seen people label him as a potential signing of the summer. But at such an early stage in the season is it right to make a statement of that nature?
There is no doubting the impact Young has had at United since he joined from Aston Villa. In my opinion they haven’t had a winger who could play on either flank with such ease since the days of Andrei Kanchelskis. He gives them an option that not many clubs can call on in the top flight with his pace, trickery, shooting and his crossing ability second to none from both sides. There aren’t many wingers who can whip an exquisite ball over like he can with either foot with Arsenal feeling the full force of his powers. Despite the positive opening to his career at Old Trafford I do believe it’s unwise to get carried away just yet.
Ferguson has an exceptional track record of getting the best out of wingers and wide midfielders like Young. Aside from a few glaring blemishes (Jesper Blomqvist anyone?) he has worked wonders with a number of wide men over the years. Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kanchelskis and David Beckham are the prime examples of those who have excelled under the Scot during his 24 years as United boss. He honed their skills from a young age and turned them into world-class players.
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If Young is looking to achieve the same success and push himself into the world-class bracket then Ferguson is the perfect tutor. At 26-years-old you may think that it’s too late for Young to even consider making that step up into the realm of Ronaldo. The Red Devils boss took two or three years to mould him into the world-beater he is today.
The calibre of training on offer at Manchester United is head and shoulders above Aston Villa’s, no disrespect to them, and Young will certainly feel the full benefit of that step up. Practicing and mixing with the likes of Giggs and Wayne Rooney everyday can only better Young’s all round game. Despite his great start he does have some negative facets to his game. At times his crossing can be frustratingly inconsistent which won’t go down well with Rooney or Ferguson. His work rate when Villa didn’t have the ball and penchant to go to ground very easily will also turn those early cheers from the stands into dissatisfied groans. All of these things need to hammered out of the England winger if he is going to make the step up over the next few years as he enters his prime years.
A few years of prowling the Villa Park wings have done him no harm with regular football but he hasn’t had anywhere near the level of coaching Manchester United will give him. It’s only in the last few years that he’s finally broken into the England setup, which you could argue, is rather late for a player of his quality and the fact that the national team continues to obsess over the left side of midfield. The pressure on wingers at Manchester United is also something Young will have to cope with as fans and pundits will always be making comparisons with those who have come and gone. He will have bad games which could affect his confidence, form and send him into a slump. With competition for a place on the flanks in Ferguson’s side, Young will need to perform week in week out.
Ultimately I do think he is a fantastic signing for United and will improve as a player. It’s whether he can actually make that step up and take on the mantle that those have held before him which poses the bigger question. Signing of the summer? I’m not hedging any bets just yet.
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