I admit I was skeptical when Villa manager Gerard Houllier began deploying Young in a support role behind either a lone striker or a striking tandem. The 25-year-old, I felt, did not possess the tactical nous to play the position, to control possession and marshal the attacking movement.
Now, it’s not that I’ve changed my mind, but game-by-game, Young has started proving me wrong as he adjusts to his new assignment. It hasn’t been a seamless transition from the wing, as Houllier will attest. The manager recently said his new playmaker had to learn to hold the ball better and not give away possession, but the improvement has been noticeable.
This was particularly evident in England’s 2-1 win over Denmark on February 9. A half-time substitute, Young came on for Wayne Rooney and immediately slotted in right behind his Villa teammate Darren Bent. Barely 20 minutes later, he had scored the match winner.
Young’s performance in Copenhagen, and the fact that England manager Fabio Capello deployed him in a central role, was ratification that Houllier’s decision to do the same several weeks earlier had been the right one. And that means something. Say what you will about Capello’s own tactical acumen, but he recognized what I’m sure we all did: that Young has been quickly and successfully adjusting to his new position for his club.
Now, just how long he stays at that club is another matter entirely. That a handful of Premier League clubs approached Villa about signing Young in January is no secret, and I’m sure we all know which clubs those were, and how much they were willing to pay. Villa, however, opted to hold on to the player rather than cash in on him, and they should be commended for that.
Don’t forget, Villa are just three points above the drop with 11 matches to play. Keeping Young through the winter was a necessity, as they may very well have gone hurtling even further down the standings without him. With him, I’d imagine they’re planning a rather more upward trajectory. They’re also just three points out of 10th.
D-Day on Young’s future will come early in the summer, when the player sits down with club owner Randy Lerner and talks about a new contract. His present one expires in 2012, and if he decides to leave Villa, this will be the time when he makes that decision.
A year ago I would have been in favour of his exit. I’m not anymore, at least not right now. Yes, some of the numbers being bandied about for his signature are extraordinary, but I’m not convinced they accurately represent his value to the club.
And it’s a growing value, make no mistake. As important as Ashley Young was as a left-winger, he’s potentially more vital to the cause in his new position. And if he continues to flourish in the role, as I suspect he will, Aston Villa would do well to give him that big, lucrative, long-term contract he just might deserve.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer.
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