Gareth Southgate announced his England squad this week ahead of the international friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy, and there were a few surprise names called up - one being Manchester United’s Ashley Young.
If you have watched him regularly throughout the season, then it’s not that much of a surprise, but to the outside viewer, they might well be asking why the England manager has recalled someone who last played for the Three Lions in 2013.
Young has been a typical Mourinho player since the Portuguese boss took over: hard working, never-let-die attitude, and the versatility to play in a number of positions when asked upon. Mourinho likes his players to have loyalty and the
Englishman has shown this through his open mindedness of playing in systems and areas of the pitch which were previously unfamiliar to him.
There have been a number of stellar performances shown by the former Villan, but none better and handled with more grace than the one against Liverpool last weekend. At a time where Mo Salah was rampant and scoring at a rate of knots, Young’s task looked nigh-on-impossible to half the Egyptian in his tracks.
Southgate was at the game and was questioned about Luke Shaw’s England career: “I know [Luke] has made big strides with José, José is very pleased with him," Southgate said.
“The reality is in the bigger matches Ashley Young gets the nod and I saw him against Liverpool, against [Mo] Salah, the other day [and] he was fantastic.”
And Southgate is spot on. Mourinho has been impressed with Shaw’s attitude and persistence in trying to impress the manager with his hard work, but he still remains second in line to Young.
The former Southampton left back has made considerable strides this season after struggling to get in the books of Mourinho in his first year, but that appears to be water under the bridge.
Young has kept Shaw out through his own immense performances and is a trusty lieutenant that Mourinho uses in those bigger matches. Against Liverpool, Young was terrific in managing the half spaces between himself and Salah, while also keeping the pressure on Jürgen Klopp’s midfield to prevent further waves of attacks.
Southgate went on to praise Young’s quality and said: “In that wing-back role, someone like Ashley who has played further forward gives us a different profile. Luke, when we're looking at who might be in when there are issues at that end of the pitch, is definitely in our thoughts.”
When taking a deeper look into Young’s stats for the season, it is evident to see why Southgate has recalled him, as well as Mourinho putting him among his favourites at the club.
On average, over 90 minutes, Young leads the way for stats out of Ben Davies, Marcos Alonso and Ryan Bertrand for: tackles won (1.26), successful take ons (1.17), and interceptions (1.96).
The one stat that makes for the most interesting reading is his successful take ons. Comparing his record, 1.17 per-90 minutes, to the second highest from those three, Ben Davies’ 0.54, it makes for compelling reading.
Of course, Young was a former winger and so it should be his bread and butter, but it does say how frequent the Englishman is getting forward and trying to make something happen by taking on his opposite man - a rarity from a lot of modern players who always want to cut inside to find the pass or shoot.
Young has good, solid stats for the season so far, even if the results are slightly skewed with having played less minutes than Bertrand and Alonso. The former winger can provide a unique sense of versatility to England’s squad, too, having played on the left and right wing, as well as left back and right back under Mourinho. Strangely enough, he was also used as a false nine under Louis van Gaal, who tried to emulate his use of Arjen Robben with the Netherlands - it did not work.
Having a utility player in any squad is a necessity, and Young provides that along with his heaps of experience at both club and international level. While he will not expect to start often for England, his presence around the squad, as well as towards the end of the game, could well provide great positivity throughout.
Young has worked hard and buckled down to be in with a shout of playing for England again. Many 32 year olds would have thrown in the towel long ago if they had been through what Young has. So, kudos where it is due, and congratulations to Young for returning to the international fold.
This article ws written exclusively for Soccer Box by Liam Canning, shop with us for all your England Euro 2018 football kit, Manchester United jerseys and other official football merchandise.