Ashley Young has a knack of doing the right thing without particularly playing well
Like Lester Freamon from The Wire, Ashley Young seems to have the rare gift of being able to do so much despite appearing to do very little else. In season one, when the Deputy Commissioner, Ervin Burrell, decided that the Barksdale investigation was probably just a waste of time and resources, he recalled the two detectives thought to be the best po-lice, leaving Freamon and the others – including protagonist Jimmy McNulty and leader of the detail, Lieutenant Daniels – to finish the job, thinking he had left only the lousy and incompetent to carry out the rest of the supposedly perilous case. He was wrong – in the end, they somehow managed to pull of a winning case against the ruthless Barksdale organisation. Inevitably, McNulty and Daniels would earn most praise and it seemed that Freamon’s work – which had been crucial – had been ignored, not just by those above him in the hierarchy but even the audience at home. This isn’t the reason why he’s similar to Young, though. It’s something else.
Thankfully, Young’s efforts don’t pass unnoticed. It’s just that performance and influence are two different things – Freamon constantly sat on his arse while others were out there kapow-ing the bad guys; even so, there was no doubting how influential he was particularly when listening to the wiretaps, making his own inferences which would lay the foundations of the case. For that reason, Ashley Young’s debut season in Manchester United colours is very similar to Freamon’s – once you get past some of the obvious differences, of course; he’s been below-average in about half the games he has played in, yet is able to get by and seen to have repaid the manager’s faith – rightly so – because of isolated moments that happen to be able to change a game.
Against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, he was more out, rather than in, in this game, but scored two well-taken goals to guide United to a slightly flattering 3-1 victory. The week before, against Norwich, he came on as an impact sub with the score at 1-1 and despite being so uninvolved for the best part of 25 minutes, hit a fine cross for Ryan Giggs to win it late. In the first leg of the Europa League tie with Ajax at the Amsterdam ArenA, he opened the scoring well into the second-half. In doing this, he could have been said to be influential to the result – but this, as we know, is not mutually exclusive to performance. He was some way off standard, in all truth. Perhaps it’d be fair not to reflect on the Norwich performance having been thrown in late, but his against Spurs and Ajax were comfortably average. And it’s been that way for a while, now.
Granted, he hasn’t played that much, but enough to know that he has often contributed without really playing well. Luckily, though, there have been instances where Young has performed admirably – the early season games against West Brom, Spurs and Arsenal stick out. He was very good against the Baggies in the season opener and forced the winning goal; and the fixtures that followed were more of the same – there he was superb and condemned the two north London clubs to defeat with his swashbuckling dynamism. But he had been unable to continue that soon after, even before his injury setback around winter time. When United laboured to a 3-3 draw with Basel, he salvaged a point but he did this in a tie where he had struggled to impose himself for much of the game. Weeks earlier, the Reds’ 3-1 victory over Chelsea saw a Young free-kick which found Chris Smalling unattended to head home. It was much of the same; one or two good moments, but otherwise frustrating.
This may all sound Andrei Arshavin-esque; indeed, the game in which the Russian famously pummelled four goals against Liverpool in a 4-4 stalemate in the 08/09 season was hailed as a great performance, however Arshavin did not play as well as some had said. In truth, he just happened to score four and not to do much else. This is not comparing Young with Arshavin; however, there is reason for concern. It’s saying something that many have noted that even Nani, wearisome and delightful in equal measure, seems to be far more involved.
It is important that Young imposes himself and doesn’t fade away into anonymity because, when he does have the ball, he is able to change a game in the manner that only a few of his teammates can; he has managed to score and assist in games of real importance (Chelsea, City, Spurs, Arsenal), after all. Because of his happy knack of doing the important things, he is certain to be rewarded with minutes – but there will be occasions where he’ll struggle and fail to influence at the same time; and for that reason, he must be fearful.
Seeing as we’ve referenced The Wire in a piece about Ashley Young, it would seem wrong not to point you in the direction of Young’s lookalike. Marlo Stanfield, for the purposes of lols, ladies and gentlemen.