Does Ashley Young deserve new Man Utd deal?
Following rumours of interest from Tottenham, Manchester United (5/2 with Coral to finish outside the top four) have reportedly moved to tie down winger Ashley Young, and could offer the English attacker a three-year extension to stay at Old Trafford.
Despite the recent departure of Robin van Persie, the Red Devils have a long tradition of keeping loyal veterans at the club to provide valuable squad depth and an example to younger players.
As it stands versatile Young, now 30, will be a free agent next summer. So is it a smart move to put a new offer on the table?
Going on performance alone, the wingman more than justified a longer stay in Manchester with his hard-working performances down the left flank last term. Whether filling in as a wing back or used in his natural role, Young always put in a competent shift, his confidence clearly buoyed by Louis van Gaal’s faith.
The Dutch coach took a shine to Young’s efforts, endeavour and adaptability from the get-go and the ex-Aston Villa midfielder repaid that appreciation in spades, finally looking like he believed he deserved to wear the red shirt.
Now a relatively veteran member of the dressing room, after joining from Villa Park in 2011, Young stepped up last season while others wilted, memorably combining well with Daley Blind and Marouane Fellaini on the left on numerous occasions during United’s best run.
Still, stats don’t lie, and two Premier League goals plus five assists is a little underwhelming from an Old Trafford flank threat. Even Van Gaal himself, who values teamplay over solo efforts, used Young as an unfortunate comparison to top-draw dangermen.
The Man Utd manager said recently: “Young had a fantastic season but he is not a Neymar and we have to compete with that kind of class,” which is a valid and undeniable point if the Red Devils hope to challenge for title again.
Unless you are Real Madrid, however, it is not feasible to have a squad stock-piled with superstars, and fringe players are a vital requirement. Young is far from an outsider at the moment, however, and although his starting spot is deserved, keeping the Watford academy graduate into his 30s could pose problems.
In the immediate short term, Van Gaal’s pre-season seems to indicate expensive new attacker Memphis Depay will be played in a more central role this season. While the Clockwork Orange talent can operate in that position, it is to be hoped the reason for shoehorning one of Europe’s most exciting youngsters behind Wayne Rooney is not to keep Young out wide.
Depay is by far his most threatening when cutting in from the flank, or using his speed, tricks and flicks to beat a man, so deploying the Dutch young-gun elsewhere feels a waste. Around £25m worth of waste before add-ons to be exact.
While Van Gaal will continue to tinker with his tactics and under-performing stars will surely receive short-shrift, with Young justly getting a fair crack of the whip, a long-term stay for the attacking midfielder could also impact others.
Jesse Lingard for one, is running out of time to stake a squad place. The Man Utd academy product, now 22, was always going to be a late bloomer considering his slight stature but now, after being shipped off on loan after loan, impressing during every pre-season and regularly starring for England Under-21s, it should be his chance to shine.
Able to play anywhere across attacking midfield, lithe Lingard can play any role Young can, and could have the potential to do it better. An established Championship goal threat and smooth with his link-up play, the intelligent youngster may find his path blocked by a player who is unlikely to develop further.
Could Lingard be an important squad star for years to come? United, 5/1 to lift the Premier League, may never know if they opt to extend Young’s deal over giving their Old Trafford-reared talent game time. With such promise in their ranks there a few spaces available with the first-team, so the Red Devils must think carefully about keeping a safe bet at the expense of exciting young blood.