As Ashley Young leaned back in his chair at St George’s Park, back in the England set-up for the first time in four years, he wanted to make it clear there was no lingering issue with Dele Alli after their tête-à-tête when Manchester United played Tottenham Hotspur two weekends ago.
That little contretemps at Old Trafford was awkwardly timed bearing in mind Young’s subsequent return to a new-look England squad where Alli is now one of the key players. As it is, the two have not yet crossed paths because of Alli’s withdrawal but Young struck a conciliatory tone and even tried to argue his Instagram post after the game against Spurs – “talk is cheap” – was not, as widely perceived, intended for the benefit of the younger player.
“It would be nice to see him,” he said. “Things happen on football pitches. Once the game is finished, you don’t need to talk afterwards. That’s just how it is. He’s a confident player and that gives him that edge.”
Young has certainly not come back into the England fold to pick an argument with anyone and there was a smile when it was put to him that Alli still did not own a championship winner’s medal. Young had – according to every lip-reading expert in the business – told Alli to come back when he had won the Premier League. “He hasn’t, yet,” Young volunteered.
Now 32, Young is the senior citizen of Gareth Southgate’s squad, among the outfield players anyway, almost 10 years to the week since he made his England debut as a half-time substitute in a 1-0 friendly victory against Austria in Vienna. Young has gone on to win 30 caps but none since a goalless World Cup qualifier in Ukraine in September 2013, after which Roy Hodgson decided he could do without a player who was unable to hold down a regular place in his favoured wing spot for a succession of United managers.
Instead, Young is listed as a defender in England’s squad, in line with his new position as a wing-back, and sounds as if he wants to make up for lost time. “I’d prefer it if I was playing further up the pitch [for United] but I’ve been able to adapt and play as a left-back or a right-back and as a wing-back. I’ve been enjoying football, playing well every time I put on the shirt and I feel like I deserve the call-up.”
Young’s four-year exile certainly does not appear to have affected his confidence on the back of an impressive run in United’s back four. Southgate operates with a different system but Young has shown how versatility is increasingly regarded as a useful trait in the modern game. “The manager is talking about a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 and I feel like I can step into that role. I’ve shown I deserve to be in the England squad but I don’t just want a place in the squad, I want to be in the team.
“I never once shut the door on England or thought the door was shut on myself. When you have the chance to represent your country it’s an honour to pull on an England shirt. That’s why I will never retire until my legs tell me they can’t run any more. I’m delighted to be back.”
Young watched the last World Cup on holiday in Dubai – “it was disappointing not to be involved” – but his absence did not generate a huge amount of public sympathy, bearing in mind his reputation at the time as a diver. Young appears to have removed, or at least reduced, that side to his game but there was a time when Sir Alex Ferguson stated publicly he would address his own concerns with the player.
“A lot of people talk about diving and whatnot but it’s just one of those things,” Young said, as though wearily accustomed to being asked about it. “If the referee gives a foul then it’s a foul. That’s how I see it. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and anyone can say anything but, no, I don’t dive.”
Whether you choose to believe him or not, Young must be doing something right, bearing in mind that if he plays against either Germany on Friday or Brazil on Tuesday, Southgate will have become the fifth manager after Hodgson, Stuart Pearce, Fabio Capello and Steve McClaren to select him.
Yet it was strange that Young also repeatedly made reference to having played for only three managers at United when it is, in fact, four – Ferguson, David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and now José Mourinho (or five if Ryan Giggs is counted). Young did not elaborate but mentioned it being three so many times it left the suspicion that perhaps he was not too fond of either Moyes or Van Gaal. Should we read anything into it? “You can do if you want,” he said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010