“David’s obviously in contention, [but] Ash, when he’s on the pitch, will carry the armband. When Ash starts, he’ll be carrying the armband,”said Ole in his post-match press conference.
When asked if this meant that the right-back had replaced Valencia – who moved to L.D.U. Quito in the summer – as club captain, Ole’s reply was short and to the point.
“You can probably call it that,”he said.
So this happened over the weekend. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally named a new captain and, maybe somewhat surprisingly, chose Ashely Young.
I was pretty logged off this weekend but I can’t imagine the online response to this was positive. A lot of fans hate on Ashely Young, (some will say I used to be among those fans, I’ll decline to comment on that for reasons), they don’t want to see him anywhere near the team anymore.
The hate Young gets is not only unfair but harsh. It’s true he never grew to be the top quality player that United could depend on to compete not just in the Premier League but in Europe as well.
Has he been bad? Not really. Has he been good? Pretty much. But he was essentially signed to replace Ryan Giggs on the left wing and when that happens the expectations are going to be sky high.
It’s not Young’s fault that Sir Alex Ferguson saw him as the left wing of the future. It’s not Young’s fault that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer keeps picking him even as his game deteriorates.
That doesn’t mean he deserves the hate and vitriol. For nearly the past decade Young has been a dependable servant to Manchester United. The man has never once given less than his best effort.
We thought his time at Old Trafford had run out when Louis van Gaal arrived. Instead Young transformed himself into a fullback and became a useful option. When Jose Mourinho arrived Young’s playing time dropped again. But as soon as he was called upon Young was ready.
He buckled down and became a more than serviceable option as a left back in 2017-18. Recency bias tend to cause people to forget he kept Mohammad Salah in his back pocket in United’s 2-1 win against Liverpool in March 2018. Young’s form that year was so good he was England’s starting left back at the World Cup. That wasn’t an accident.
Last year was a bit worse. As age gets to him his game is slipping away. That’s natural. It doesn’t mean he’s not a very good squad player.
Young’s deficiencies last year shone brighter because of the imbalance of the squad. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Paul Pogba all operate mainly from the left side. Opposing teams knew that and focused all of their defensive tactics on shutting down United’s left.
In the Champions League quarterfinal Barcelona ignored Young on the right flank. They essentially forced United to shuttle the ball to him and exclusively attack from his position. Knowing the ball was going to go to Young and then be crossed in made it easy for Barcelona to defend, and it made Young look a lot worse than he actually is.
Young is a great player to have in the squad. You need veterans in the dressing room. You need players who know they won’t play every week, but can fill in in various positions. There are several players I’d love to see United cut loose, Ashley Young is not one of them.
That doesn’t mean he should be the club’s captain.
Manchester United have been a team, and club, in turmoil for the past few years. What they need is stability. I don’t think Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s job is in jeopardy regardless of what happens this season but they need stability on the pitch too.
Young becomes United’s fourth captain in the last four years following Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, and Antonio Valencia. Not only is that a lot of change, but none of those players were full time starters when they were wearing the armband (in Rooney’s case, his final year as captain).
In 2016-17 Rooney started just 15 Premier League games. In 2017-18 Carrick made five appearances total. Last year Valencia made just 12.
Not only has there been constant changeover with the captain but the skipper has rarely been on the field. That leads to even more inconsistency when a different player is wearing the armband every game.
United have been in this position before. Sort of. Just over a decade ago Gary Neville was the club’s captain. Neville suffered a major injury and missed the 2007-08 season. When he returned he only played sporadically.
When Neville was out, Ryan Giggs wore the armband. But Giggs didn’t play every week either and when he was absent it went to Rio Ferdinand. United went with this rotation for a few years until age and injury started to limit Giggs and Ferdinand.
Eventually Ferguson decided United need a captain who would be on the field every week. Despite Giggs and Ferdinand still playing, the armband was given to Nemanja Vidic. The reason cited was stability.
Stability. That’s what Manchester United need. With Luke Shaw locking down the left back spot and Aaron Wan-Bissaka arriving to play on the right, Ashley Young is no longer a first choice player.
For that reason, and that reason alone, he can’t be the captain. There’s also the matter of he’s on the back end of his time at United. Solskjaer would have been far better giving the armband to a player that we know will be here for the next few years.
That’s not an easy choice to make. Most of the players are young and not ready for that leadership. If Paul Pogba signs a new contract he wouldn’t be a bad option. Otherwise the only other candidate is David de Gea and I can see why you may be hesitant to give that role to a goalkeeper.
Ashley Young is not a bad choice to be the club’s captain. He’s just not the captain they need right now.