Ashley Young successfully completed at medical at Bridgewater Hospital today ahead of the Aston Villa winger’s £15 million transfer to Old Trafford. The test, just three miles East of United’s home turf, was the latest formality in a much-anticipated move by the England international. It will likely be officially confirmed when the transfer window opens on 1 July but there is now little doubt that the 25-year-old will join Sir Alex Ferguson’s roster for next season.
But with Antonio Valencia now Ferguson’s preferred choice on the right flank there is an increasing feeling that Portuguese winger Nani’s four-year spell in Manchester has now come to an end. It is an exchange in personnel that does not obviously upgrade United’s squad.
Young, who joined Villa for £9.75 million from Watford in 2007, will more than double is wages to £120,000 per week at Old Trafford after choosing the Premier League champions ahead of a move to Liverpool this summer. Much as Blackburn Rovers defender Phil Jones had earlier this month. The transfer marks the zenith of rapid progress over the past year for Stevenage-born Young, who has also forced his way in Fabio Capello’s England, scoring against Denmark and Switzerland this season.
No longer a youngster perhaps, but Young’s progress towards Old Trafford was not born of an auspicious start. Initially rejected by Watford as a teenager, the player eventually broke in Ray Lewington’s side during the 2003/4 season, making five appearances from the bench. But it wasn’t until 2005/6 that Young achieved a real breakthrough in professional football, with more than 40 appearances for the Hornets, scoring 14 times and creating 13 in the Championship.
An excellent start the following season in the Premier League increased interest in the player, drawing a £10 million bid from West Ham United during the January transfer window. Young rejected the move before forcing through a transfer to Villa; a sign of the determination to play at a higher level that would be repeated this season.
“I’ve always said that I’m an ambitious person. To play in the biggest competitions, the European Championships, the Champions League, FA Cup finals, League Cup finals, the World Cup, the Euros,” said Young earlier this season, signalling his Villa departure.
“I want to play in them all. Every player would want to win trophies, titles and medals. I’m no different. I’m an ambitious person like any other person who’s in football.”
Young’s improvement are born out in his statistics, which are a touch better than average this season, having scored nine and assisted 15 in a poor Villa side. It’s around par for the course for a player who has achieved a greater level of consistency at Villa Park in a variety of positions. By contrast United’s Nani scored 13 and created 17 in all competitions this season and that comes after the Portuguese lost his place to Valencia in the final weeks of the campaign.
Yet, for all Young’s progress over the past four years with Villa there is an inherent feeling that the player has already reached his peak. Certainly, if players coming to Old Trafford fit two camps – those who will improve United’s first XI, and those whom fans hope will improve to the level of United’s XI – then Young is firmly in the latter. Certainly few fans will buy the argument that Young enhances United’s first team; nor will Europe’s finest be overly concerned at Ferguson’s new addition.
Then there is the question of Young’s place in the United side. After all the player has excelled as a deep-lying striker with Villa over the past year; the position in which Wayne Rooney showed such outstanding form towards the back-end of last season. It points to a place on United’s flank.
However, those closest to the player believe that he will flourish centrally. Capello, for example, left the Villain out of England’s recent draw with Switzerland not for poor form but because “Young is a really good player in a good moment. But I think the position for him to play is not the left or right-wing but just in the centre of the midfield because he can attack the space really good.”
Former club manager Gerrard Houllier made a similar argument earlier in the season, stating that Young can only become “world class” as a shadow striker. “I like himto play in that position to be fair,” said Houllier. “He can be a real specialist. He can be a striker and he can also be a link between the midfield and the attack.”
Unless Ferguson plans to drop Javier Hernández and deploy Rooney as United’s ‘number nine’ once again, then Young will surely compete for a place on Ferguson’s left-wing.
What then of Nani, who seems certain to head to Spain or Italy this summer. Indeed, despite Young’s acquisition it is United’s failed pursuit of Udinese’s Alexis Sánchez – a player the club has watched for three years without making a bid – that offers the clearest indication Nani will end four years at Old Trafford.
After all, rumours of the Portuguese’s dissatisfaction with a contract that has two years to run have become more than a whisper in recent weeks. That United has done little to quell the speculation about the club’s Player of the Year says much.
In that scenario the question becomes whether swapping Young for Nani has improved or degraded Ferguson’s team. Of course, supporters posed the same rhetorical question of Valencia before the Ecuadorian’s £14 million move from Wigan Athletic two years ago. Valencia, who is only six months younger than the Villa forward, has been a huge hit at Old Trafford despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow.
Young will certainly join the Ecuadorian Manchester; time will tell whether he is also a success.
Ashley Young facts
Born 9 July 1985, Stevenage, England
Watford: 110 appearances, 22 goals
Aston Villa: 190, 38
England U21: 10, 1
England: 15, 2
Watford Young Player of the Season: 2004/5
PFA Young Player of the Year: 2008/9