With the news that personal terms, a medical and presumably also a transfer fee have been agreed, it never hurts to attempt to be a little objective about things. After all is said and done there has been a sense of inevitability that Young would move on. And whilst you would be hard pressed to find many Manchester United admirers, one would rather a jewel in the Aston Villa crown went to the champions of England than Liverpool.
But why would losing one of the squads most creative players be a good thing?
Let me caveat the following by stating that Young was the spark in a Martin O’Neill side that found itself on the cusp of Champions League football. He was the invention that lay simmering from which the unexpected could happen – a last gasp goal at Everton being a fine example. Young, when focused, also provided devastating assists which restored pride and faith when all seemed lost – a delivery to Agbonlahor at St. Andrew to win at the death stands out in that respect.
Young’s transfer from Watford has been a fantastic success. Whilst Villa paid just shy of £10 Million for the only shining light in a relegated team (which was frankly abysmal), it cannot be denied that it was worth every penny. Indeed, you need only consider the outrageous sums changing hands already this summer for prospects in English football to make comparisons for value. However, whilst Young has advanced and developed into an exciting attacking midfielder – he has perhaps at times lost his own way in a Villa side that once more lies in a state of transition.
And transition does not sit well with ambitious players whom have regularly shown off their talents to potential suitors.
And from Villa’s point of view the transfer ultimately represents good business. Young is entering the final year of his contract, the purported fee of £16 million pounds screams fantastic value from Manchester United’s standpoint, but there will likely be some relief that there has been a repayment on the original outlay on Villa’s part. Had other clubs (namely Liverpool) not been circling, Young could easily have found himself moving for nothing a year down the line. It is also worth noting for the accountants amongst you that Watford stand to inherit 15% of Young’s transfer fee. And so whilst Villa are perhaps far from mastering the game of maximising their investments, all is not lost in the grand scheme of things.
And so when pondering the next step, Villa fans should not forget that as the teams form spluttered and staggered from one fixture to the next during the 2010/11 season, Young’s performances and indeed his contribution were very much a part of this. The trickery and invention were replaced frequently by displays of petulance towards match officials and embarrassing instances of play acting and simulation. There were still glimmers of the skill and a predatory nature, most notably for England versus Switzerland, but this perhaps further underlined that Young’s days with Villa were numbered.
There also comes a time when two parties need to go their separate ways. Our circumstances have changed since the anguish of losing Gareth Barry and then James Milner in successive seasons to Manchester City. One can forgive a player such as Young moving for the realistic prospect of trophies and a rumoured pay packet of £130,000 per week. As a fan, you would have to be deluded to begrudge him that. Which is why when making the comparison to previous losses of star players, whom have moved on for little or no professional reward in addition to their improved bank balances, we should be careful. And let us not forget that Aston Villa could not at this moment be seriously considered on the cusp of anything noteworthy, as depressing and as entirely unacceptable as that might be.
There were times last season when Villa needed a figure to step up and take a hold of matches. Teams look to their stars for guidance and inspiration; the Gerrards, Terry’s (etc) drag their colleagues kicking and screaming towards victory. Although Young is incredibly vocal on the field, it is not in the motivational sense. In short, rarely did he lead by example. His petulance invariably marred and frustrated supporters who knew that if he redirected this passion it could turn some of our concerning league form around.
Amidst a seemingly likely slide towards the drop zone in March, we needed big performances and a touch of class to haul ourselves out of trouble. What we got was an Ashley Young who looked like he had abandoned the cause. The club quite literally persevered with Young in matches where you could have been forgiven for wondering if he was even on the pitch. This was purely because at Aston Villa he was a likely first pick, a luxury that will not be afforded to him at Old Trafford.
And this in itself will save the new Villa manager (who could that be?) a major headache. Because it represented a real dilemma for Houllier and co as they sought to lift and invigorate Villa. In Young they had a player with all of the attributes that will ensure he achieves all that he is capable of at Manchester United. But this was offset against not knowing whether he would put in the effort on a given day. His transfer will enable not just the eradication of this problem, but the impact that it has upon the players around him as well.
There can be no doubt about Young’s effectiveness on his day. And though those days waned massively over the last 12 months, everyone had seen enough of him to know his capabilities. Thus as Young became part of the spine and the way Villa played, when his form suddenly became so erratic, the tactics became ineffective. The “free” or “in the hole” role he was afforded became not so much a difficult weapon for the opposition to defend, but a regular feature of why we could not win matches. At the time this stifled any prospect of Villa getting behind teams, creating opportunistic chances and directly impacted upon our need to assure top flight status.
And so losing Young allows Aston Villa to start fresh. A new manager will bring their ideas without the burden of having to accommodate a want-away player whose best form for the club we had likely already seen. The obvious problem is finding a replacement who can be as devastatingly effective as Young once was. That might involve looking for players such as Marc Albrighton to step up from their position of understudy – or indeed taking the view that we need to repeat the process of acquiring talent in the manner we did Young from Watford.
Whatever the manner Aston Villa chooses to proceed, it will enable a new direction, a fresh approach and perhaps the beginnings of a new challenge to re-establish this old club amongst the modern elite.
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