In Manchester United’s U23 match against Swansea earlier this week, two faces familiar to the first team setup made their soft return from injury, Luke Shaw, and Ashley Young. Shaw is entering into an important time in his United career, having yet to recover his form – or his first team place – since his horrific injury nearly two years ago, but is still young and talented enough to guarantee a stay at the club for the foreseeable future. Young, on the other hand, is, on paper, United’s most expendable player. He is 32 years old, way down the pecking order in his favoured position, and has never really impressed at the club, even under Sir Alex Ferguson. So it’s pretty remarkable that he’s even still around, no?
And yet, he is. He survived David Moyes, and two years of Louis van Gaal, without making much of a mark on the pitch, apart from a good stretch of form in Van Gaal’s first season, keeping Angel Di Maria on the bench. He survived Mourinho’s first season, and it looks like he will stay for a little longer.
There is one short and simple explanation for this, in the form of his wages. Unless an offer comes from China or a similarly high spending footballing country, it is highly unlikely he’d find a new club to match his wages. Either the clubs that want him wouldn’t be able to afford paying them, or that clubs that can afford them would not be interested in him.
But while that explains why no one has bought him, that doesn’t answer why United are still keeping him. However, Chris Smalling might have an answer. When he was talking up United’s positive dressing room environment, he mentions Young as being “up there” with the “jokers” of the dressing room, which, of course, helps build that environment.
Not only is he a barrel of laughs, apparently, he is also one of the few remaining senior figures in the club. Players like him, along with Michael Carrick and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, are important figures for the younger part of the dressing room, and those that are just entering or will eventually enter that dressing room from the smaller one in the U23’s. Figures whose experience, on and off the pitch, would make great brains for the youngsters to pick.
And there’s also his versatility.While Young was signed as a winger, he has played under Mourinho as a wing back, or even at full back, and was reinvigorated. He wasn’t blowing minds, sure, but he has proven himself as a good option for the positions he could now cover. And just last week, Jose Mourinho had mentioned that he was looking for a player capable of playing the wing-back role, but with how things are shaping up, it doesn’t look like United will be making any additional transfers, which means Mourinho will be relying on Young again.
Of course, arguments against him staying are definitely not invalid. Young was never one of the best players in United signed. Even at times during Ferguson’s years, he was still looked at as one of the players not pulling their weight, and he certainly hasn’t set the world alight since then. While his age does have its advantage off the pitch, it will not help his performances on the pitch.
Young’s presence at the club is definitely a positive for the rest of the squad, but it is fair to question whether or not United should keep him when he contributes little on the pitch. But if he’s not getting in the way, why should United sell him? It’s not as if United can’t afford to keep him, and as long as he can keep his performances up at a reasonable level when he does get called on, he would be a solid squad player to have.