The Ashley Young Issue
There's a certain level of hype and excitement that comes with a £15M move to Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson, inheriting the legendary no.18 shirt from Paul Scholes for good measure. That was the reality facing Ashley Young believe it or not, many moons ago...
Ashley Young was one of England's most promising young players in the Premier League when he moved from Aston Villa to Manchester United in 2011. He had been the shining light in a pretty average Watford side and had performed consistently well for a Villa team that was, at that time, on the verge of Champions League qualification. Combine that with Sir Alex Ferguson's well known and impressive record of nurturing young English talent, and it looked like United were on to a winning deal.
Although his initial couple seasons at the club weren't too bad in terms of the numbers he was putting up, this transfer was one of the starting points at which United's decline can be pointed towards. The sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid in 2009 might not have spelled the end for United, but the attempt to replace him with Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan was a symbol of the lack of ambition the new Glazer owners were bringing in.
This lack of ambition, it has to be said, continued with the purchase of Ashley Young. At a time when United were losing players such as Ronaldo, Tevez, Scholes etc, a replacement in the form of Ashley Young or Phil Jones, is just simply not going to propel you back to the heights you were once at. Let's not forget that this was at the same time Chelsea were spending £50M on the likes of Fernando Torres and winning a Champions League, and Manchester City were finally producing some direction in their transfers with the acquisitions of the likes of Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta.
So while Ashley Young was, and still is in most aspects, a fine player of the game, when you stack him up against the players and transfers around him, it's clear to see that there's a serial lack of ambition in the way the Glazers initially ran the club.
Showing No Signs Of Letting Up
So if everyone can see the average levels Young hits every season, why is it that every manager that comes through the door at Old Trafford seems to think of him as an invaluable cog in how their team operates? Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - managers of varying levels of experience and all with different styles and approaches of playing, seem to all have Ashley Young as one of the first names on the team sheets. Why is that?
One simple answer is stability. If there's one thing United haven't been in recent times, it's stable. From the Moyes fiasco, to the emerging gap between a corporate board and a footballing team, Ashley Young represents a fairly safe, evergreen presence on the pitch that will pretty much guarantee a reasonably satisfactory performance every week. He doesn't create drama or trouble on or off the pitch and has the utility within him to play in most positions across the pitch.
One other explanation is that he is cheap. In a world where United have squandered millions upon millions on flops ranging from Angel Di Maria, Memphis Depay etc. Having a decent enough player filling out a position like Ashley Young does is a great way of keeping the wage bill in check, whilst filling out the transfer budget enough for these expensive flops to keep rolling in.
In a way, a slightly dull option like Ashley Young is the perfect tool for the corporate, star-hunting mission of Ed Woodward.
When Will It End?
Ashley Young is by no means a flop. Well over two hundred appearances under his belt, he has won every major in front of an English club, barring the Champions League of course. You don't get the vibe that he's disinterested or uncaring about Manchester United as a club either; if you say nothing else about Ashley Young, you have to at least pay him the reasonably small compliment of saying he tries in every game.
At 33 years of age and with new recruits almost certain to be coming in over the coming years, it's clear that the Ashley Young 'problem' at Manchester United won't be a problem for too much longer. What should be thought about more however, is the overarching issues at Manchester United that Ashley Young represents. The lack of direction, falling behind rivals, insufficiently addressing obvious issues in the side and the constant hunt for global megastars are all problems at Manchester United that need serious looking at before the club can even think of moving forward.