In the history of English football, few clubs have put as much emphasis on wingers as Manchester United have done. At Old Trafford, wide men have always been revered and adored in a unique and peculiar way, unknown to most of other clubs.
From George Best to Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Andrei Kanchelskis up to Cristiano Ronaldo, United’s wingers have always captured the imagination not only of fans whole allegiances lie in Manchester’s red half but also of many neutrals.
The last instalment of this glorious tradition, however, is single handedly trying to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Having developed a reputation for tumbling to the ground rather too willingly and rather too often, Ashley Young brought his personal pantomime to a whole new level against Real Sociedad last night, as he tumbled to the ground after the merest hint of contact with an opponent’s arm.
Unfortunately for Young – and for United, who could have done with securing three points in San Sebastian – Robin Van Persie missed the subsequent penalty, leaving the spotlight on him and on the infuriated fans and pundits, who have grown increasingly frustrated with the former Villa man’s theatrics on the pitch.
Some consider singling out Young a short-sighted exercise, particularly considering the amount of players who, in this day and age, indulge in the same behaviour. However, while Young’s penchant for diving is just as deplorable as Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez’s tendency to lose their balance too willingly, his reputation for being a serial diver only adds insult to his abject performances.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani both developed a reputation for going to the ground too easily, but neither of them reached the embarrassing depths Young has plummeted to with alarming regularity.
Furthermore, leaving Ronaldo’s phenomenal achievements aside, even Nani, for all his petulance and inconsistency, has proved to be an much better player than Young, whose limits were again laid bare in his 30-minute cameo last night.
Having come on a substitute, Young’s first contribution to the game was actually a rather positive one, as his cross found Robin Van Persie unmarked in Sociedad’s penalty box, but the Dutchman could only rattle the post with his shot.
Young, who was already reprimanded about his diving by Sir Alex Ferguson last season, came under the spotlight earlier this season as he won the penalty through which United opened their account against Crystal Palace, the second controversial episode the United winger was involved in during that game, after a first, pathetic, attempt had gone unpunished by the referee.
Young is rapidly running out of friends in football, with pundits and commentators unwilling to defend he United winger’s theatrics, as Roy Keane and Ray Wilkins exemplified last night.
“He’s obviously played for it,” Keane told ITV. “If you are a Man United player and you see a player getting tugged back, you want him to go down. Ashley Young’s obviously gone down too much over the last few months.
“He’s been heavily criticised in England but we are in a foreign country and it’s more accepted.
“But he’s almost conned the referee there. If he scores the penalty, as a United player you would be delighted, but he’s conned the referee there.”
Ray Wilkins, the man whose mantra wants players to stay up right, added fuel to an already blazing fire: “This [dive] is pathetic. This is as bad for me as all these over-the-top tackles we’re getting at the moment because that is a conning of the referee.
“I just wish Ashley would cut this out because he’s a good player but he’s getting a bad name.”
Therein lies the problem.
Ashley Young is plainly not a very good footballer, but one for whom a combination of work ethic and luck was enough to reach not only Premier League football, but Manchester United.
However, instead of continuing to be the reliable, if at times unimpressive, player he was at Villa, Young has allowed diving and petulance to creep into his game, thus being exposed for what he is.
Everybody loves a squad player. Nobody likes a cheat.