Ashley Young's Remarkable Pre-Season Will Guarantee Him a Role Under Van Gaal

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Ashley Young's Remarkable Pre-Season Will Guarantee Him a Role Under Van Gaal
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The upheaval of managerial and coaching staff can often have a profound effect on players, but of all people, Ashley Young appeared the least likely to prosper from Manchester United's appointment of Louis van Gaal in May.

The winger has drastically underwhelmed since swapping Villa Park for Old Trafford in the summer of 2011, starting well but tailing off dramatically and failing to command a role in the team.

Sir Alex Ferguson coaxed one strong season out of the former England international, but injuries halted his progress, and David Moyes wholly failed to integrate him into his side too.

Young made 13 Premier League starts last season, per WhoScored.com, but they were largely against "lesser sides"; he barely made an impact in the UEFA Champions League despite Juan Mata being cup-tied for the tournament.

Young's Statistical Fall
*League Key Passes (pg) Assists (total) Accurate Crosses (pg)
2010/11 Villa 2.3 10 2.2
2011/12 Utd 1.7 7 1.4
2012/13 Utd 1.7 3 1.2
2013/14 Utd 0.8 1 0.8

WhoScored.com

He essentially stood bottom of the food chain, even below Nani, and Young's number, frankly, looked well and truly up this summer.

Van Gaal's decision to move away from his regular 4-3-3 and stick with the 3-4-1-2 used during the FIFA World Cup 2014 only served to enforce the point: How could a beleaguered, out-of-touch winger play in a formation that uses no wingers?

But Young has used the pre-season tour of the USA and the International Champions Cup (ICC) to stake his claim for a place in the side as a multifunctional, versatile option.

Uncredited/Associated Press

Van Gaal loves a trier and, like Rafa Benitez, is willing to keep hard workers around the squad to serve a purpose and motivate the others. In much the same way Dirk Kuyt inexplicably found a home at left wing-back for the Dutch in Brazil, Young is set to be offered a similar "fix it" role.

"Ashley Young is a winger, but he is another type who can play wing-back and he did very well against Roma," Van Gaal told reporters in America (h/t The Guardian). "He can play left and right side, but we shall see."

The thought of Young occupying a wing-back role, on paper, is laughable; never has the former Aston Villa star been defensively capable, particularly able to tackle or positionally aware.

He's long been regarded as a flashy final-third player and nothing else, but his pre-season showings suggest he can be a potent weapon flying forward from a deeper position.

He bagged 90 minutes against Liverpool in the ICC final, put Real Madrid to the sword and impressed against Roma. Reece James, United's young prospect at left-back, will likely be sent out on loan for the season due to the excellence of his once-forgotten colleague this summer.

There remain a tonne of questions regarding his actual defensive ability and what he'd be like standing up a man. He's weedy, thin and built for an offensive role—he's not played a competitive game as a wing-back yet, and there's still a lot to be learned.

But the flexibility of being able to play either side, as a No. 10 in reserve to Juan Mata and Shinji Kagawa, will see him play a role in 2014-15. United's dismal defensive depth will play a hand too.

Young stands the exemplar of how to turn your career around, proving flexibility and thirst—in addition to a clever manager—can transform your fortunes. It's difficult to see Nani or Anderson taking the same approach, and the difference in methodology will be rewarded, for Young, with a role at Van Gaal's United.

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