England are now on Russian soil. In less than a week, their World Cup campaign will be underway.
Gareth Southgate’s squad is stacked with young up-and-comers who’ll be taking part in their first major international tournament. In amongst the World Cup debutants, though, is the wily old veteran, Ashley Young. He, too, is making his Three Lions World Cup bow.
The evergreen 32-year-old has completely reinvented his game under Jose Mourinho, but that certainly seemed to have worked. Young finished 2017/18 with 38 appearances under his belt; the highest tally in seven seasons as a Red Devil.
Young ticks all the boxes
Young did an excellent job as the make-shift left-back for the Old Trafford club. Not only was his defensively solid, positionally aware and strong in the tackle, the ex-Aston Villa man offered an offensive outlet. It was down the left-hand side that United looked their most threatening. That’s no coincidence.
He may be lacking in big-game international experience, but domestically, Young ticks all the boxes. The Watford academy graduate has played in plenty of high-pressure games for the Red Devils. His trophy haul isn’t too shabby, either.
Earning Mourinho’s trust is never an easy feat, particularly when you’ve got a top talent like Luke Shaw breathing down your neck. I’d argue that this campaign has been his most accomplished (on a personal level, anyway). Young has featured 34 times for his country, scoring seven goals. The only major tournament he’s featured in was EURO 2012. England topped their group that year, but were cruelly dumped out on penalties (surprise surprise) at the hands of Italy. The United man started all four games in Poland/Ukraine.
Then came Young’s four-year international hiatus. Roy Hodgson opted for youth following EURO 2012. When you couple that with Young becoming largely a rotational player at Old Trafford, the writing was certainly on the wall.
The Gareth Southgate reprieve
It looked as if it were all over for the man from Stevenage; then came the Gareth Southgate reprieve. England’s 47-year-old coach gave Young an unlikely call-up for two friendly fixtures against Germany and Brazil before the turn of the year. Since then, he hasn’t looked back.
After impressing in his three England games in 2018, Young’s place aboard the plane to Russia was a certainty. Make no mistake, it was his attitude, grit and determination that led to his unexpected recall. That never-say-die mentality is the trait that has defined his glittering career.
Now Young’s attention turns towards earning the starting job. He’s already been helped by the fact that Southgate is opting for a back five; which is arguably the formation that suits him best. The 5-3-2 allows the 32-year-old to impact the match in the opposing third of the field, knowing he has cover in-behind him. There aren’t many better crossers of the football at the tournament. He’s always capable of producing the spectacular from distance, too…
In terms of competition, the main threat comes from Tottenham Hotspur’s Danny Rose. He’s spent the majority of the last twelve months on the treatment table. Fabian Delph has proven his left-back capabilities for Manchester City this term, but against Costa Rica, he didn’t leap off the page.
I’ve always said that every team needs an Ashley Young. He’ll give you a 7/10 every single time he takes to the field. He may not win you football matches single-handedly, but he certainly won’t lose them either. In a squad filled with youthful exuberance, his experience could prove vital for Southgate. Don’t be surprised to see him starting his first World Cup game at the Volgograd Arena next Monday…