Why Ashley Young Will Enjoy a New Lease of Life Under Louis Van Gaal


Comparing Ashley Young's dynamic performances for Manchester United in preseason with his typical output since 2012, you might conclude he was never really a winger in the first place. He was a wing-back trying to make a point.

Young was a revelation on United's tour of America. He was beating players, arcing over sumptuous crosses and scoring goals again - that and working like the man all reinvented Louis van Gaal wing-backs shall forever be compared to, Dirk 'former Liverpool striker' Kuyt.

Kuyt and Young began the summer as players of very different reputations - one a muscular utility man who would run 5,000 miles and then 5,000 more; the other a flouncy winger who loves a dive. Fast forward to August and you can't mention one without the other.

Young can surely never have predicted he'd one day be referred as "the next Dirk Kuyt". But it's happening. Everywhere.

Kuyt's contribution for Van Gaal's Dutch at the World Cup was hugely impressive. We knew of his unflinching application and eye for goal; now we learned his adaptability was every bit as admirable. His manager's trust was well placed and Kuyt the chameleon was reborn to the world, aged 34.

When Kuyt's manager Van Gaal came to United, his 3-5-2 (3-4-1-2 if you're picky) formation came with him. It's a system that just as often looks like 5-3-2, which tells you the two wide players better be ready to put a shift in. They'll be no flouncing on Van Gaal's watch.

Young seemed an unlikely contender to thrive. The England international was coming off the back off a flat season under David Moyes, in which he produced just one Premier League assist from 83 crosses and once again struggled with injuries.

There were times Young looked lost in his own ideas on United's wing last season - as if he'd forgotten the natural next move and was trying to force his brain to compute it. The verve and fluency that once marked his play seemed lost, and you wondered if it might ever return.

There was speculation he might be sold by Moyes in the January window. The stories appeared again as United's miserable campaign concluded and Moyes departed, with Young's former club Aston Villa said to be among the interested parties.

It's hard to imagine many United fans would have shed a tear for his departure. Young had underwhelmed during Moyes' most underwhelming tenure, which made him a symptom of their decline. At 29, there was also the argument his trajectory would only be down from here.

Trawling United messageboards you'll find a lot of negative stuff about Young. Some fans resent his reported £130,000-a-week salary, which makes him one of the club's best-paid players. Others suggest he's a one-dimensional winger who was never good enough for the club. And then there's the diving.

Following Ryan Giggs down United's left wing was never meant to be an easy task, of course.

But Van Gaal has clearly decided to give Young a shot. Having been outspoken about Luke Shaw's lack of fitness, and with Patrice Evra off to Juventus, Young stood out to his new manager as a Kuyt-like fit for the left wing-back slot.

Upon closer inspection, he's been proved some of the way to right.

"Ashley Young is a winger, but he is another type who can play wing-back," Van Gaal said after watching United beat Roma. "He can play left and right side, but we shall see."

We saw more in United's 3-1 win against Real Madrid, with Young scoring twice from the left and outshining far more celebrated names around him.

Some doubts remain as to his defensive abilities, with Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe writing, "the thought of Young occupying a wing-back role, on paper, is laughable; never has the former Aston Villa star been defensively capable, particularly able to tackle or positionally aware."

But for all the concern, there's every chance Young will begin the season as Van Gaal's starting left wing-back against Swansea next Saturday. 

Antonio Valencia looks set to marshall the right. A more defensively-minded player than Young, Valencia has filled the right-back position in a traditional back four for United and possesses all the physical attributes Van Gaal would be looking for.

The left then comes down to a battle between Young and Shaw, which Van Gaal appears to have already called by doubting the younger man's preparedness in preseason.

Young it is then. A player many thought would follow Moyes out of the door at Old Trafford, given a new lease of life by a manager who loves to be proved right. With Van Gaal in his corner, Young has every chance of having a run in the United starting lineup and putting himself in England contention again.

Struggling footballers should never give up hope. You never know who the next Dirk Kuyt might be.

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