Friday 12 December ~
Ashley Young was described as "a genius" by boss Martin O’Neill after his scintillating performance against Everton last Sunday, having scored a vital brace, including a last-gasp winner, to push Aston Villa into the top five. Young has been an instrumental figure in O’Neill’s ambitious quest to break into that cosy quartet, but it seems that things could have been very different for the skinny lad from Stevenage.
When Young was 15, he was at a crossroads in his footballing career. Chris Cummins, the club scout who spotted the player at the age of ten, admitted to the Guardian today: “People were umming and aahing... a lot of them were questioning his size.” Cummins managed to persuade the Watford management team that the slender winger was a talent not to be ignored. Having excelled at Villa, Young was one of only two players from outside the big four to be named in last season’s Premier League Team of the Year, David James being the other.
Team-mate Gareth Barry claims that Young is someone can make a considerable contribution to England’s build-up to the 2010 World Cup, as he looks to edge out Joe Cole and Stewart Downing for that attacking left-side slot. Barry has also reiterated his intention to stay at Villa Park but only if they reach the Champions League – which is big of him. A move to Liverpool next summer still appears likely.
Meanwhile, Young’s former Watford strike-partner, Hull City’s Marlon King, has been accused of assaulting a woman in a London bar. It's the second altercation that King has been involved with in a matter of weeks, after he and team-mate Dean Windass had to be separated after a disagreement at a casino in Scarborough. King will nonetheless be available for Hull when they meet Liverpool tomorrow.
Rafa Benitez, normally inclined to confidence-boosting comments about his team, has suddenly opted for some reverse psychology, writing off the league leaders' chances of mounting a serious title challenge. The lack of positivity will not be well received by Liverpool’s beleaguered American owners, who are still hoping to be bought out, while apparently also arranging a new deal for their manager. Meanwhile, Benitez's predecessor Gerard Houllier has told French television that he is not interested in the Sunderland job. If he's playing hard to get, it's a risky strategy. Rich Evans