Ashley Young was probably the left-back in whom José Mourinho had the most trust this season. That sentence shouldn’t make any sense, but it’s probably true. Even when Young was frequently being left out of matchday squads, when he did appear, he was almost always singled out by Mourinho for his application. No player seemed to please the manager more.
Young arrived at United as one of a set of wholly underwhelming Cristiano Ronaldo “replacements,” as Sir Alex Ferguson attempted to replicate the brilliance of one of the greatest players of all time by assembling a hodgepodge of players who could each do one thing that Ronaldo could, but not nearly as well. In the first half of his United career, Young was nothing more than a mediocre winger with a penchant for diving.
Under Louis van Gaal though, Young demonstrated an ability to adapt to a more defensive role, often exceeding expectations as a left-back. This year, under Mourinho, he took the evolution of his game a step further. Young made the majority of his appearances at either left- or right-back, showing a positional discipline and defensive tenacity that made him as good a utility man as anyone in the squad.
He even captained the team on one occasion - an idea that would have been mortifying in years past. The fact that Young has become one of the leaders in the United dressing room is a damning indictment of the lack of leadership in this current squad, but the idea is not as bewildering as it once may have been, which speaks volumes about how the player has earned the respect of fans in the last couple of seasons.
Young may move on this summer in search of regular football, but a player who has the trust of his manager, the respect of his teammates, and who is competent in at three positions is not one of whose departure we can be dismissive.
José Mourinho approval rating: A highly enthusiastic, loudly voiced post-match digression.