Precisely one year and three days ago, Ashley Young’s Manchester United career looked dead in the water, watching helplessly from the bench as a 1-1 draw with Southampton affirmed the Red Devils’ worst campaign of Premier League era.
A third season of little accomplishment for the winger since his £18million move from Aston Villa in summer 2011, few expected him to survive Louis van Gaal’s inaugural cull, which included Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Tom Cleverley, Nani, Shinji Kagawa, Danny Welbeck and Wilfried Zaha amongst its more notable victims.
But fast forward twelve months (and three days) and the 29 year-old is enjoying arguably the most productive form of his Old Trafford career, bagging two goals, four assists and three Man of the Match awards in 21 Premier League starts – despite often featuring as United’s emergency left wing-back – including a scintillating display in April’s Manchester derby.
So with June’s international fixtures looming and habitual absences of crocked regulars widely expected following another tough Premier League campaign, the question must be asked; does Ashley Young deserve his first England call up since 2013?
The England national team is now very much a young man’s game. Roy Hodgson’s last squad, facing Lithuania and Italy in March, featured just two players aged 30 or over, only two with 50 caps or more and 14 under the age of 25. The Three Lions gaffer is picking his squads with Russia 2018 in mind, attempting to mesh together a new crop after the underwhelming decline of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard’s ‘golden generation’.
Young doesn’t particularly fit that image, despite his well-fitting surname. By the World Cup in Russia he’ll be 34 and although he’s played well this season, even Euro 2016 could be a bit of a push. After all, Manchester United have already completed the signing of Eredivisie prodigy Memphis Depay, albeit a winger-forward who tends to prefer the opposite flank, and rumours linking them with a summer bid for Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale have been relentless over the last few months. There may simply be no room for the former Watford man in United’s starting Xi by the time 2015/16 comes around – so why bring an ageing winger back into the England fold who could be lost to the realms of cameo by October or November?
But has there been a home-grown winger in better form than Young over the last few months? Raheem Sterling’s superlative displays of 2014 have tailed off since he became enthralled in an apparently self-imposed contract scandal, Danny Welbeck has scored less goals and made less appearances than his ultimate campaign at Manchester United since joining Arsenal last summer, and team-mate Theo Walcott has managed just half an hour of competitive football since England’s friendly against Italy in March.
Liverpool’s Adam Lallana continues to struggle under the weight of his ridiculous £25million price-tag, whilst James Milner, for all his fantastic qualities, has never been the most dynamic of wide-men. And then there’s Andros Townsend – an apparent law to himself, who features more regularly for the Three Lions than he does Tottenham Hotspur.
Of course, the England national team should never become a by proxy Premier League form guide. There are clearly some footballers made out for international football, and some who unfortunately are not. Likewise, Hodgson has his favourites, those who he sees as long-term fixtures in England’s plans – Welbeck and Sterling being firmly amongst them.
But in my opinion, Young’s recent displays deserve some recognition, whilst his pedigree at international level is already proven. Seven goals in 30 appearances for the Three Lions is actually a better goals-to-game ratio than any of the aforementioned names, with the exclusion of Welbeck and three-in-seven supersub Townsend. Similarly, he’d offer experience to a squad firmly lacking it, and has spent the last four years playing alongside the first name on the England team-sheet – captain Wayne Rooney.
Perhaps most importantly of all, however, is Young’s more traditional style. Whilst Sterling and Welbeck are of the modern winger-forward mould, he’s a touch-line hugger, a relentless crosser, who uses his pace and skill to add width to the team. One could argue that to be a testament to how he belongs to a different age – but in terms of the squad itself, it’s currently an option Hodgson doesn’t have.
Whether that’s enough to convince the England boss remains to be seen. Since the failure of the 2014 World Cup, the prevailing mantra has been to look forward rather than backwards in the hope of better times ahead. Yet amid an era where the Three Lions are no longer privy to a plethora of talent in every position, in my opinion, any English footballer to prove themselves at the top end of the Premier League is worth Hodgson’s gamble. And upon the end of a real comeback campaign, there’s no question Young will enter June’s fixtures with his confidence at an all time high.