Manchester United is a club in celebration, after the Red Devils secured their 20th top flight title – but this year has not been filled with joy for Ashley Young.
The 27-year-old should be entering his best years, but instead he has suffered through possibly the least productive season of his career.
In 19 Premier League appearances – most United fans would struggle to believe he has started 17 times this year – Young has three assists and no goals.
He hasn’t created a goal since the Manchester derby in December – that’s nine fruitless league games – and hasn’t gone a full season without scoring since 2004/05, aged just 18.
However, a quick visit to football analysis website WhoScored.com tells a slightly different story.
WhoScored have award Young an average rating for this season of 6.97 – higher than Nani’s 6.69, Danny Welbeck’s 6.71 and Shinji Kagawa’s 6.87.
In fact, of all United’s attacking midfield and wide options, only Antonio Valencia beats Young – by the narrowest of margins, with a 6.99.
Young’s 6.97 is also a higher rating than those of Chelsea’s Oscar, Southampton’s Adam Lalllana and Wigan Athletic’s Shaun Maloney, all of whom have won their fair share of plaudits for performances this season.
It would appear that, even when lacking in direct contribution to goals, the former Aston Villa man is having just as much influence on football matches as ‘in form’ players.
Perception and reality are two very different animals in the footballing world – for example, WhoScored has Andy Carroll as the sixth best player in the Premier League this season.
The fact is that the much-maligned striker’s 9.6 aerial duels won per game – he leads the league in that respect – do have a tremendous influence on games.
And this is said by a man who watched on painfully, as Adebayo Akinfenwa bullied Cheltenham Town in their playoff semi-final first leg on Thursday night.
I believe Young’s issue is not, therefore, a lack of the ability necessary to cut it at the top level – this season has been one long crisis of confidence.
The 27-year-old joined United in June 2011 for around £17million – widely believed to be a smart piece of business by United, especially considering the prices of other English talents at the time.
Liverpool had signed Carroll for £30million in January, Jordan Henderson for £16million a couple of weeks earlier and would pick up Stewart Downing for £20million next month.
He played a major part in United’s 8-2 demolition of Arsenal at the beginning of last season, including two trademark curled strikes from the left flank, and enjoyed a productive season.
Young was England’s standout player in the run-up to Euro 2012 and he carried a heavy chunk of the burden of expectation, as Roy Hodgson’s side headed to Poland and Ukraine.
But, for whatever reason, the winger didn’t turn up to the big stage and things have gone steadily downhill since then.
Regular accusations of diving appear to have played a part, as Young seems far less willing to drive into the opposition area from his favoured left flank.
There’s no doubt his delivery is top class, but if a winger loses interest in beating his man, he becomes a toothless weapon.
Ashley Young can easily find his edge next season – at 27 he should be hitting his physical peak and terrorising full backs every weekend.
The responsibility lies on his shoulders, but also on those of manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who can use his experience to help Young regain his confidence.
If Fergie can find a way to energise him, Young has every capability of playing a major role in the Red Devils’ title defence next season.
Image courtesy of RedMancunianTV, via YouTube, with thanks.