Aston Villa today announced the departure of Ashley Young, confirming that the club will not be extending the 37-year-old's contract now that it's expired. Firstly, I think I speak for not only everybody at AVFC Faithful, but Villa fans worldwide when I say thank you, Ashley.
Young has spent a total of six and a half years at Villa over his two spells at the club, making a total of 247 appearances, scoring 38 goals and notching 60 assists. During his first stay at the club, he was arguably Villa's greatest attacking threat. Fullbacks throughout the Premier League feared the winger as he darted past defenders with ease and constantly found the likes of Big John Carew, Gabby Agbonlahor, or the back of the net itself. Returning to the club in 2021 with winners' medals for the Premier League, FA Cup, EFL Cup, Europa League, Serie A and more, Young was back at Villa Park as an experienced fullback and as a locker room leader.
During the majority of Young's first spell at Villa, he was part of a team fighting for the top European spots. He helped Villa to back-to-back European qualifications, just missing out on the Champions League itself. It seems fitting then, that in his final act of service to the club, Young would go on to play a crucial role in helping Villa get back to Europe for the first time since the season that he left. A true professional who gave everything for the badge, Ashley Young will live long in the memories of Villans everywhere.
The glory days
That's enough stats and facts for one day, let's jump into some of Young's best moments in a Villa shirt!
Young started life at Villa in nearly the best way possible, scoring on his debut away at Newcastle. It wasn't perfect, however, as Villa would go on to lose that game 3-1.. typical Villa. By the following season (2007/08), Young had already become a Villa Park favourite thanks to his part in the 5-1 demolition of Birmingham City in which Young scored twice, assisted two more, and took home the man of the match award to boot. Some say that Small Heath still hasn't recovered to this day.
By Young's second full season (2008/09), he really began to show Villa Park what he could do by lighting up the Premier League week in and week out. The peak of his performances that season undoubtedly came at Goodison Park. The display put on by Young that afternoon to help Villa to a 3-2 victory will likely never be forgotten, I personally still remember it like it was last weekend. After Lescott (boo!) had put two past Friedal, the second of which felt like it had surely secured Everton a point, up stepped Ashley Young.. Well, actually, up stepped Mikel Arteta to misplace an awful touch to the feet of Gabby Agbonlahor but I digress. Anyway, up stepped Ashley Young in the dying seconds of the game to skin Lescott (the same player who had ripped his shirt off in celebration only a couple of minutes earlier) and perfectly place the ball into the Everton net and send the away support into another dimension.
Young had succeeded massively in helping Villa qualify for Europe two seasons running, finishing 6th on both occasions. Although Villa would struggle in Europe over these seasons, maybe due to a thin squad, Young would often shine bright under the lights on those European nights. Not only was the Premier League fearful of what he could do, so was the rest of Europe. Young was quickly rewarded for his efforts when he received multiple England caps during his time at Villa. Unfortunately, he just missed out on being picked for the 2010 World Cup squad. Either way, Villa fans would beam with pride whenever Young would represent his country.
It would be disingenuous to pretend that it was always sunshine and rainbows with Ashley Young and Aston Villa, so let's take a quick look back at some of the less happier times.
Come the end of the 2010/11 season, Young no longer felt like the same exciting superstar he was in the previous years. He was still probably the best player in the team, but the squad was horribly mismanaged since the departure of Martin O'Neill and Young weirdly found himself in a role similar to that of a number 10 rather than a winger. He simply wasn't being used to the best of his abilities while the team around him steadily got worse.
It was also clear that Young would be leaving Villa for a new challenge after not signing a new contract and letting his deal run into its final year. At the time, many supporters felt betrayed by Young who appeared to be forcing through the move, especially given that top players seemed to be abandoning Villa left and right at the time. In hindsight, it's difficult to blame him for leaving, maybe even impossible. It was hard to accept at the time, but Villa were only heading in one direction under the ownership of Randy Lerner and that was down. Even if Young had decided to stay on (at the expense of his own career), it would have probably only delayed Villa's inevitable downfall rather than halted it completely.
When Young returned to Villa a decade later, both him and the club had been on very different journeys, but Young was welcomed back with open arms proving that the level-headed supporters harbored no ill will for what had gone down previously.
Upon Young's return, now as a fullback, he was nothing short of consistent, reliable, and a real leader despite having three different head coaches over a two year period. Now with his contract at an end, he appears to be leaving Villa for good, this time as a hero sailing off into the sunset. But what's next for Young?
Personally, I wish Villa would have given him one more year. Speaking to the crowd following Villa capturing Europe once again this past weekend, Young said - "We will all enjoy this together, hopefully I'll be able to be part of these European nights like I was in 2010". It's genuinely a bit upsetting that this will not be the case. It's not only for sentimental reasons that I'd love to see him back next season, but because he's been more than solid whenever called upon this last season and is clearly an important voice in the dressing room. He could have really played an important part in Villa's new European campaign, I truly believe that. Having said that, I fully believe in Unai Emery's vision for next season so there must be a good reason for this move.
Maybe Young could take a coaching role of some kind just to keep him around the team, however, I have a strong feeling that he will still feel he has a lot left to give to a good team elsewhere. Despite turning 38 this coming July, Young does not play like a player close to retirement. Depending on what division he's happy to play in, I wouldn't rule out seeing him back where it all started at Watford, bringing his incredible career full circle. Only time will tell.
Before I wrap up, I just want to send my thanks to Ashley Young one more time for the years of brilliant service to the club. There was a tweet from AVFC Faithful earlier today about whether or not Young will be remembered as a cult hero or a legend among Aston Villa supporters. Personally I know which way I'd lean towards, but if it's between those two options, I'd say the boy hasn't done bad at all. Good luck Ashley, UTV!
One last thing, if you want to celebrate Villa getting into Europe in style then make sure to check out Dan & James on the latest AVFC Faithful podcast where they talk everything from the 2-1 victory against Brighton, the teams Villa may encounter in the Europa Conference League, and a general review of the season. You don't want to miss it!