The ups and downs of Ashley Young’s career from reject to England star
Ashley Young has had something of a topsy-turvy career, but as the Manchester United and England man turns 33, his stock has rarely been higher.
Young’s form at left-back for United in the last season ensured him a place at the World Cup with England, where his performances have formed a key part of the Three Lions’ success.
We’ve looked back at Young’s career, and its ups and downs, from the early days as a Watford winger to his new role as England wing-back.
Things didn’t get off to the smoothest start for Young. Despite being with Watford from the age of 10 he was initially told that he wouldn’t be offered a scholarship with the club.
Despite this, he continued to train part-time with the club in a bid to improve himself both physically and technically, and eventually he began training with the under-18s at just 16.
By the age of 18, Young was appearing in the first team for the Hornets, with Ray Lewington handing him his first-team debut as a substitute in 2003, in which he scored against Millwall to repay the favour.
The 2004-05 season would see him rise further to prominence, appearing in 34 of Watford’s league matches, though he failed to register a goal in any.
Aidy Boothroyd’s arrival, however, saw Young come to life, scoring 15 goals in 41 games to help Watford on their way to promotion to the Premier League.
Ashley Young’s journey is remarkable:
2001: Rejected by Watford at 16 for “not being good enough”. But stayed at the club to prove he could make it to the 1st team.
2018: Hasn’t been called up to England for almost 4 years. Tonight he starts at the World Cup.
Never give up. 🦁 pic.twitter.com/q2yygQ2dOU
— Jacob Culshaw (@Culshaw17) June 18, 2018
The big stage
Promotion to the Premier League saw Young able to test himself on the big stage for the first time, and things started well for the teenage winger as he netted three early goals, including a late volley against Fulham to ensure a 3-3 draw for the Hornets.
He also scored in Watford’s first win of the 2006-07 season against Middlesbrough, as well as getting a goal in the League Cup.
With is form came potential new suitors, however, and in the January 2007 transfer market Watford turned down a number of bids for the then-21 year old.
They did eventually accept a bid of £10million from West Ham United, but Young turned it down, not wanting to join a club in danger of relegation.
After much speculation, Young joined Aston Villa in that transfer window, for what was a club-record fee of £8million for the Villans.
And just like at Watford, the winger scored on his debut in a 3-1 defeat to Newcastle United.
However, it would be the 2007-08 season that would see Young shoot to prominence in a Villa shirt, collecting numerous man of the match awards and finishing the campaign on 17 assists.
The England call
Young’s impressive performances in the early part of the 2007-08 season caught the eye of England manager Steve McClaren, who called him up to the national side for Euro 2008 qualifiers against Estonia and Russia in August 2007.
He wouldn’t make his debut until November, however, as a half-time substitute against Austria. He went on to appear against Germany and the Netherlands.
Young continued to feature sporadically for the national side, and would eventually face disappointment at being left out of the 2010 England World Cup squad by Fabio Capello.
Martin O’Neill’s praise of Ashley Young in 2008 reached great heights, with the Irishman almost running out of superlatives for his star man.
One superlative that you may not have expected, though, is “world class”, which is what O’Neill referred to Young as after a brace against Everton, putting him on par with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
If England win the world cup or get to the semi final. Does that make Ashley Young a world class LB? 🤔
— Stepzo (@itsStepzo) June 11, 2018
Old Trafford calling
Young’s performances once again caused speculation, with a number of clubs looking at him.
In the end the battle came between Liverpool and Manchester United for the player’s services, with United pipping their rivals to the post, securing Young for a fee reported to be between £15million and £20million.
Things got off to a good start, too, as he grabbed an assist in a Manchester derby at Wembley, in the 2011 Community Shield final
Young’s first goals for the club came early in the season, too, as he netted twice in the famous 8-2 win over Arsenal.
His first three years at Old Trafford were profitable for Young, earning him numerous plaudits, but he was often let down by accusations of diving.
It’s not all been plain sailing for Young, and it wasn’t just those accusations of cheating that proved hard to swallow.
Guano sounds like something a vegan would enjoy. Look into the name and you’ll realise they definitely wouldn’t. It’s pigeon sh*t.
Young has denied this actually ever happened. Ever think someone is just a bit embarrassed and doesn’t want to admit that something happened?
If only he’d covered his mouth like everyone else when they’re talking on TV these days.
England scores off a corner kick from Ashley Young, which is better than that time a bird shit in his mouth. pic.twitter.com/2t0NJ570W0
— Not Jerry Tipton (@NotJerryTipton) July 7, 2018
‘An absolute disgrace’
When you’re playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, the last thing you need is a club legend berating you with the rest of the press. Especially when that legend happens to be Roy Keane.
“If he’s a Manchester United player, then I’m a Chinaman,” said Keane of Young after the Red Devils’ 1-0 Champions League win over CSKA Moscow in 2015, before blasting him for his “disgraceful” diving during the game.
And Keane isn’t the only Manchester United legend to criticise Young, with former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson also taking a swipe at him for his conduct when tackled.
Paul Scholes also weighed into the debate, describing the winger as “embarrassing”.
Road to redemption?
Despite being in and out of both Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United sides, and often being in unfamiliar positions, there’s a lot to be said about Ashley Young’s determination.
However, his road to redemption felt like it started very suddenly at the beginning of the 2017-18 season.
Playing at left-back, Young has consistently kept Luke Shaw out of the Manchester United side, making the position very much his own.
Young’s impressive performances as a wing-back led to Gareth Southgate recalling him to the England set-up, four years after his last appearance for the national team, in November 2017.
Since his recall, he has featured a number of times for the Three Lions, and has forced his way to the forefront of Southgate’s plans, securing a regular starting berth for his nation, six years after his last major tournament appearance.