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Ashley Young - value in his versatility

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As Manchester United close in on securing a £16 million transfer for Aston Villa's Ashley Young, this seems like a good time to discuss what he will provide at Old Trafford. The England international made his to move Villa Park four years ago after showing promise as a wide player at Watford. In his four years in a Villa shirt, he proved himself to be a tricky winger in the Premier League - he has pace, a brilliant cross, the ability to dribble past defenders, and his movement is exceptional. In addition, he's proven that he can excel on either flank. These attributes in itself provide tremendous value and versatility to any side - especially to a club like United that traditionally use their wingers as a creative force. 

One of the traits that manager Sir Alex Ferguson values most in footballers is versatility - this in turn provides the Gaffer versatility in his tactics and with his squad rotation. Because of this, it is likely that Fergie took a keen interest in Young not only for ability as a winger, but also for his recent evolution as a central winger. In the past year or so, Young's role at Villa has mainly been in a role supporting the striker - a role that typically is regarded as a central playmaker. When out of possession, Young as a central winger, occupies the opposing holding midfielder in the center of the pitch. However, when his side is attacking, he often drifts from his central position on the pitch to a more familiar area - the flanks. From here, he can provide creativity in attack by combining with the wide player for 2 v 1 situations. 

In Villa's most recent match with United in February, Young lined up behind striker Darren Bent in a 4-4-1-1 shape. Average positioning charts for the match showed what one might expect for the match in this role - dead central and right behind Bent. However, an examination of his passing chalkboard from the match shows his tendency to drift wide in the attack and create from the flanks. 

 by Guardian Chalkboards

When the upcoming season begins in August, Young will be 26 years old - typically an age that can considered a footballer's prime. With his recently increased importance to the England national team and his desire for Champions League action, this is also a prime time for Young to make his move to Manchester United. However, because Wayne Rooney plays as a central playmaker for United and because there is Antonio Valencia, Nani, Park Ji-sung, and Ryan Giggs on the wings - competition is stiff for first-choice selection. 

Young is a terrific footballer but his value lies in his versatility. If Rooney were to go down with injury, Young would be a suitable replacement in the role behind Chicharito or Dimitar Berbatov. Every winger last season became injured at some point so opportunities will certainly be there this season for Young to stake a claim as a first-choice selection for Fergie on the flanks. It would even be worth experimenting to see how Young might operate as the attacking midfielder in a 3-man central midfield when Fergie uses a 4-3-3/4-5-1 shape. I anticipate this to be a terrific buy and not only for his obvious talent - but also for the tactical versatility he provides.