‘Time flies when you’re having fun.’ Or so says the English expression. If that is indeed the case, Ashley Young’s spell at Manchester United will have gone in the blink of an eye with the former Aston Villa man describing the spirit at the club as ‘getting better and better’ since his arrival in June 2011. FIFA.com was invited to the club’s Aon Training Complex to speak to the England star about a whole host of subjects including life under Louis van Gaal, the secret behind the Red Devils annual strong finish to a season and his hopes for an international recall. Excerpts:
In June you will have been with the club for four years. When you walked in here for the first time, what was it like?
Obviously when you join the biggest club in the world it can be daunting.
When I walked in here for the first time, I just wanted to get on the training pitch. Most of the players had come back and I just wanted to get out there and train. For me, when I actually signed on the dotted line, it was fantastic.
When you think about your career, playing for clubs such as Watford and Aston Villa, did you notice another step up here in terms of the scale? I first noticed it was when we went on my first tour to America. We pulled up to the first hotel, you could see the amount of fans that stood outside the hotel just waiting for us to turn up. I think at the first training session there were 40-or-60,000 fans there, which is incredible. Then, you start to realise the size of the club. It’s like a big family. Everyone here welcomes you with open arms and the hard work starts as soon as you walk through the front door.
How long do you think it takes someone to settle in at Manchester United on average?
For me, I settled in straight away and I think it helps with a pre-season tour. You go away and you start to get to know the staff and players even more than you already did when you’ve been training for a few weeks before you go away. So, you start to get to know people and build that team spirit. The team bonding we’ve got here has been fantastic. All through the years I’ve been here I think it’s getting better and better, the team spirit. The amount of trophies and titles the club has won, the honours that the club has won. It’s that winning way. It’s the Manchester United way.
That mentality of winning has been constant, but there have been changes. The dressing room has changed. Obviously big characters such as Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs aren’t there anymore. How has it evolved since you’ve been here?
Players come and go.
That’s just the way the world of football is. It takes our players to step up and become seniors and take over that mantle and now you feedback to the younger players. I think this season, I’m the fifth-oldest now, so I’m trying to keep to being young but by now it’s only by name. But then, when you go out on the pitch there are 11 leaders. Everyone has a voice and gives their input into the team. I think that’s what helps, that everyone’s pulling in the right direction and buying into the manager’s philosophy.
As a kid, you would have watched United sides of seasons’ past come into their peak around now. Now that you’re here, what do you think the secret is?
I don’t know. I think you could talk to players and staff over the past years and years, it’s always the time of the year where the United teams come into their own and they just kick on. I don’t know if there’s an answer to as to why. We’re on a fantastic run right now. And touch wood hopefully it can continue from now until the end of the season. We said we wanted into the top four, but we want to finish as high as possible.
Louis van Gaal has used you in a variety of positions this season so far. That obviously must be quite challenging, but has it also been stimulating for you?
I think it has. Nowadays you have to be a versatile player. There have been different formations we’ve played this season and the manager has picked me to play in a few. I think if you’re clever enough to play in those different positions, you go out and give as much as you’ve got.
I’ve played in numerous positions, and especially playing as a left wingback has been a new position for me. Come pre-season, the manager said he saw me as a wingback and it was the formation we were playing with at the time. I just went and did the job. It’s a lot more defending then I would normally do but I’m clever enough to be able to go out there and know what positions to be in and when to attack.
Do you think you would have been able to do that with as much success when you were younger?
I think maybe I would have got up and down the pitch a bit quicker as I’m getting older now! At this time, you start to think about the game more. You’re more experienced. I think a lot of football is about the footballing brain. If you have a good football brain I think you get very far in your career. Especially being here, the manager puts a lot of demands on you. I’m enjoying football again. I’ve got a smile on my face. I just want to do as well as I can for the team.
You said before you were enjoying your football. How would you assess your own season?
I’m really enjoying my football, starting games, which as a player you always want to play in games. Whenever the manager calls upon me, I go out and give 110 per cent and go and show exactly what I can do. We’ll keep on listening to the manager and keep on performing.
You’re playing well for United, and that’s all you can do, but would you like to play for England again? Of course! It’s an honour to represent your country. I’ve got 30 caps at present and I want to get more. It’s one of those things where I have to keep playing as well as I can for United, and if called upon again by the England manager, then I’d be delighted.
What’s been the best moment for you in an England shirt?
Getting my first cap was a feeling I don’t think you can really describe. I remember getting that first phone call and actually thinking it was a wind up from someone! I was on the way to training and I thought it was a wind up, so I hung up the phone! I got the phone call back again, and I was like, ‘Ok, maybe it is actually serious’.
Why is playing for your country so special for you?
There’s no better feeling when you pull on that England shirt. When you have that England badge on and play at Wembley as well, it’s a fantastic place to play. Everyone wants to play at Wembley, and luckily for me, I’ve managed to do that. But I want more caps.