When Aston Villa paid £8 million for a young winger from Watford in January 2007, people were surprised at such a high fee for an unproven youngster. Even Martin O’Neill admitted that he had overpaid for him, but felt that it would be worth it in the long run. Since then, Ashley Young has gone on to become arguably one of the best wingers in the Premiership.
He has been named in the Premier League Team of the Season twice in both 2007-08 and 2008-09. In 2007-08, he was one of only two players from outside of the traditional big four teams to be named to the team, alongside David James. In 2008-09, he was also named the PFA Young Player of the Year. He also became the first player in the history of the Premiership to be named Player of the Month three times in a calendar year, receiving the award in April, October, and December 2008.
However, now 25 years old, he still has only nine caps for England, with eight of those appearances being as a substitute. It seems remarkable that such a talented player has been given so little chance to impress at the highest level.
He plays a vital role for Aston Villa, both scoring and creating goals. In fact, if we look at his time at Villa, he has made 148 appearances for the club, scoring 29 goals and creating 50 assists. That works out to a ratio of 0.2 goals per game and 0.34 assists per game. For a winger or midfield player, they are impressive statistics.
If we compare these to his rivals for a position on the wing for England, they stand up favourably. Shaun Wright-Phillips often appears in the international squad, but since rejoining Manchester City, he averages 0.18 goals per game and 0.17 assists per game. Theo Walcott has made a total of 139 appearances for Arsenal since joining from Southampton averaging 0.16 goals per game and 0.14 assists per game. Aaron Lennon is often hailed as one of the best wingers that England have at their disposal, but his average of 0.09 goals per game and 0.24 assists per game falls below that of Young.
To give an idea of quite how impressive his statistics are, Cesc Fabregas has made 272 appearances for Arsenal, scoring 51 goals and creating 88 assists. This averages out to 0.19 goals per game and 0.32 assists. Both these are below Ashley Young. Clearly goals and assists are not the be-all and end-all of a player’s ability, and I am not suggesting that Ashley Young is a superior player to Fabregas. However, on the face of those statistics, his lack of opportunity at international level seems strange.
Another positive in his favour is his fitness. He has not missed a game for Aston Villa through injury in over two years, and given the injury problems that the likes of Walcott and Lennon have faced, he would provide more regular service for both club and country.
He had a slightly below-par season by his high standards last season. However, much of this can be put down to the fact that he was often double-teamed by opponents. Seen as Villa’s key attacking threat, teams would have two players around him at all times, giving him little opportunity to show what he can do. However, in an England side full of quality players, opponents would not be able to do this.
His work-rate is second to none at the club, and he is the best player at Villa Park, and has been for the past few seasons. The news that he is expected to sign a new long-term deal at Aston Villa is a huge boost for the club, and if he can continue in the excellent form that he has begun the season, the calls for a chance with England will return.
Aaron Lennon, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Theo Walcott have all been given the opportunity to shine in an England shirt, but still none of them have made a real statement that they have a permanent spot on the wing for England. Young can play on either wing or as a second striker as he is proving this season. This versatility is another bonus, and surely Fabio Capello must give him a decent chance to show what he can do for England in the near future.