With his contract up in the summer of 2012, Villa’s ‘star man’ and England international Ashley Young is hotly tipped to leave the club after a disappointing season for the club under Gerard Houllier. The question is, is he really Villa’s star man and how sorely would he be missed were he to leave. The likes of Manchester Unite and Liverpool are thought to be front-runners for the 25-year-old’s signature, with touted valuations ranging from underwhelming to the absurd. Young has shot to the limelight on the international scene this season, to the benefit of both player and club in that it should see his popularity, and hence value, rise. What many Villa fans will be questioning is whether the winger-cum-forward has really improved this term, especially from the form he showed when going on to win the PFA Young Player of the Year in 2007/08. So I’ve studied the stats and included the facts in an in-depth review, from a personal standpoint, though opinions are welcomed!
Ashley Young joined the club from Championship side Watford in a deal which caught the eye when Martin O’Neill took a chance on the then 21-year-old in a deal worth around £10m. The gamble immediately looked to be paying off in his first half season after joining in January 2007 alongside John Carew, netting on his league debut for the club in a 3-1 defeat to Newcastle, a game in which his soon to be team-mate James Milner opened the scoring for the home side.
When he joined Villa, he was predominantly thought of as a centre forward/striker, though O’Neill was quick to exploit his pace and trickery out on the wing. The following season was undeniably one of the finest first full seasons at Villa for a new signing, in the club’s history. The 2007/08 campaign saw him sail to the aforementioned PFA gong having netted 8 league goals and picking up a fantastic 24 assists, (13 from open play, 11 from set peices) topped only by Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas, during his 37 appearances. In 3292 minutes he averaged a goal/assist every 102.9 mins.
Cutting in from a left wing position he terrorised full backs and was unlucky not to gain a starting England berth at the tender age of 22 due to the form of Joe Cole. He was also fighting it out with the likes of Stewart Downing, then of Middlesbrough, for the role. The next season, a long campaign including a spell in the UEFA Cup, saw Young play 49 times at club level, earning his first England cap, coming on as a substitute in the 6-0 win over Andorra, in the process. This busy schedule had an affect on his results on the pitch slightly, and he was unable to emulate the magnificent campaign previous, something most Villa fans will claim that he hasn’t achieved since. Despite this he still contributed with a decent 7 goals and 18 assists in 36 league outings.
Last season, in my opinion, was his worst thus far at the club having been overshadowed by the brilliant James Milner. However, he still shipped in with 17 league assists despite a deterioration in his set pieces in particular, a trend which has continued into this. His corners were constantly met by former skipper Martin Laursen during his prime, but the defender’s early retirement saw Villa’s aerial threat culled somewhat, despite the efforts of both James Collins and Richard Dunne. The 2009/10 season was his least profitable in front of goal, scoring just 5 league goals.
With the departure of Milner, and Barry before that, Young has picked up the pressure of being Villa’s ‘prized asset’, which I believe has allowed the likes of Stewart Downing and Marc Albrighton to shine. Of the attacking trio, in my opinion, Young has been the least consistent though he continues to top the clubs goal contribution charts. I think a slight lull in form last term is what can credited with the winger’s rise to the international limelight this. His improvements from the previous year have caught the eye of Fabio Capello, and when called upon for England this term he has duly delivered. In fact, many Villans would agree that he has been far more influential for England than at club level this term. Either way, he has still notched 8 goals in 34 games in all competitions for Villa, weighing in with a further 12 assists, however only 4 of which have come from set pieces, showing a decline in this area of his game. His minutes per goal/assists rate compared to that of 07/08 (120.9) is 150 at club level.
The main debate this season has been regarding his position. Houllier has preferred him, in the most part, in a central role behind the striker, a role in which the player himself has admitted he favours. However, most Villa fans see him as a winger and I would have to agree. In the games in which he has reverted to the wing for his club he hasn’t impressed this term though, and if Villa are to keep him, assuring him of this central free-role may be crucial. Young has built up a decent rapport with Darren Bent and claims that he hopes to continue to be used as a second striker, a position in which he has excelled for England.
Though a fee of as low as £10m has been suggested, I would hope that if Ashley were to be sold, we would gain a significant profit on the fee spent over four years ago. Anywhere between £15m-£20m is probably most likely, though Villa fans will be hoping reports touting a £25m valuation are more accurate!
Of his 79 league assists, 32 have come from set pieces. Having picked up 11 from dead ball situations in 07/08, this has dropped to 4 this term.
His goalscoring is an even spread in terms of timings and home and away fixtures. 16 of his 31 league goals have come at Villa Park, while 17 of the 31 have come in the second half of matches.
In reaching 50 assists, Young became the 5th fastest player to do so in the Premier League (103 matches). He is behind Nani (85), Cantona (96), Arteta (99) and fellow Villan Robert Pires (101).
In reaching the same landmark, Young became the 9th youngest player to do so at aged 23 years and 299 days. The top 5 in this list are Fabregas, Rooney, Beckham, Ronaldo, Giggs. James Milner is 10th.
Young is 7th in the list of current Premier League players with assists from set pieces (32).
With an assist rate per game in the Premier League of 0.46 he is 5th in the all time rankings behind only David Beckham (0.57), Thierry Henry (0.56), Cesc Fabregas (0.55) and Eric Cantona (0.51)
Young has won the most penalties in the league this season, and as Alan Pardew was keen to point out, is the competitions most fouled player.
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