Ashley Young has been called up to the England national team for the first time in four years. He has enjoyed a surprise return to form as Jose Mourinho’s first choice defender on the left, playing as a wing-back.
Young hasn’t played for England since September 2013 and that can’t have come as a surprise to anyone, including the player. The form of plenty of players suffered once David Moyes replaced Sir Alex Ferguson but Young was one of the worst of the bunch.
It was only when Louis van Gaal took charge that Young began a resurgence of sorts, moving back in to a more defensive position that suited him, as age and slowing pace had begun to get the better of him.
Yet under Mourinho, Young has performed even better, but can largely thank a lack of competition for his regular position in the team. Luke Shaw has fallen out of favour with the manager and Matteo Darmian isn’t very good on the left, leaving Daley Blind as the only real threat.
This isn’t Young’s favourite position but it is one that he is playing well in.
“I’d prefer it if I was playing further up the pitch but I’ve been able to adapt and play as a left-back or a right-back and as a wing-back,” he said this week. “I’ve been enjoying football, playing well every time I put on the shirt and I feel like I deserve the call-up.”
Young won’t be ousting Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial from their position anytime soon but he plays a great supporting role for them both though. Young can aid their attack while also being capable of whipping in a dangerous ball himself when required. It’s astonishing how often full-backs fail to stop him from doing this, given how obvious it is he will cut inside and cross the ball on his right-foot every time he gets forward.
His crossing ability is something that really adds value to his inclusion and Gareth Southgate may well be keen to take advantage in England’s upcoming friendlies against Germany and Brazil.
Young has certainly been able to adapt to what is required of him after changing to a deeper role than the one he played in when making his England debut a decade ago, almost to the day.
Young came off the bench as a second half substitute against Austria and made some decent runs down the left flank. He delivered a ball that should have lead to Peter Crouch’s second goal of the game too but the striker’s header went straight to the goalkeeper.
What’s interesting about looking at that team sheet is how Young has managed to bring himself back in to the squad while so many of a similar age fell away long ago. Micah Richards, who is three years younger than Young, started that game, and now finds himself in the Championship with Aston Villa. Stuart Downing was on the bench, as were now long forgotten players like Shaun Wright-Phillips and Nicky Shorey.
If Young features in either of the friendlies, Southgate will be the fifth England manager to play him, which is a decent achievement.
He’ll never be the most popular player in any team he plays for but he will always be one of the hardest working. Dele Alli might have made comments about Young needing to retire with a “zimmer frame”, but as a winner of the Premier League, FA Cup, EFL Cup and Europa League, the 32-year-old is a decent option to have.
Mourinho likes Young because he’s “used to the responsibility of a big game” and “every time he plays he’s doing his job well.”
Southgate has clearly been paying attention and now it’s up to Young to do all he can to get himself on that flight to Russia next summer for what would almost certainly be his last international tournament with England.