Evergreen Ashley Young ready to bite hand that fed him as rejuvenated Inter Milan star eyes up potential Europa League final clash with his old team Manchester United
Should both Europa League semi-finals go to form, the ghost of Manchester United past will be waiting for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team in Friday’s final.
Inter Milan, who face Shakhtar Donetsk in the ‘other’ semi, have United old boys Romelu Lukaku, Ashley Young and Alexis Sanchez on their roster besides other familiar names Christian Eriksen (ex-Tottenham), Victor Moses (Chelsea) and manager Antonio Conte (Chelsea).
The presence of Young is particularly interesting. He started 2020 as United’s captain before his unexpected move to Serie A. Now 35, a neat trim has replaced the shaven head and he’s playing left wing-back like someone a decade younger.
Ashley Young will face old club Manchester United if they and Inter Milan win semi-finals
The 35-year-old was captain at Old Trafford before completing a surprise move to Serie A
Young has thrived under Inter coach Antonio Conte, playing at left-wing-back in the system
‘I spoke to Ole and he said I wasn’t going to play as much as I wanted,’ explains Young about his departure.
‘For me age is nothing but a number. I’m as fit as anyone and felt I had a lot to give. When the opportunity came at Inter, it was a no-brainer. I was like, “Get me on the plane, get me out there.”
Fortunately given that Milan was one of the first European cities into lockdown, Young had his family there to help get through it.
He’s extremely settled now and says the only thing he misses about England is his Mum’s cooking. On the pitch, Inter’s form has been good – finishing second in the Italian league and now in a major semi-final.
Young’s friendship with former United star Romelu Lukaku has helped him settle seamlessly
Inter play 3-4-3 as Conte did winning the Premier League title at Chelsea. For Young, it gives him more attacking freedom than he had at United as an orthodox full-back.
‘He (Conte) demands everything, not just in matches, in training as well. You can tell he’s a winner.
‘It’s more of a tactical league than I’ve been used to but I have adapted. Playing wing-back, there’s a lot of running to do, getting forward, defending.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer prompted the move by telling Young he’d struggle for game time
‘The way we play, you’re more on the front foot and playing. It’s felt like a new lease of life being able to assist and get on the score sheet. Back at United, I was more of an out-and-out defender.’
Young’s tally of five goals is his best since he started at United in 2011-12 as a winger.
He acknowledges having friends like Lukaku at the club has made it easier to acclimatise.
‘He was one of the players I spoke to before coming out,’ Young revealed to UEFA.com. ‘He was desperate for me go out and he’s been a massive help since.
‘The team spirit that we’ve got here is fantastic and that can take you a long way.
United face Sevilla in their semi-final after hitting impressive form late in the extended season
Shakhtar Donetsk stand in the way of Inter who finished in second in the Italian top-flight
‘We do a torello (keep away) before training sessions and the manager has been getting involved these last few weeks. It is good to see. It’s actually nice when we keep him in the middle, keep him running about.’
Ironically, Young missed United’s Europa Cup triumph of 2017 after getting injured in the semi-final.
He went hoarse encouraging his team-mates in the final against Ajax. This time he’ll be equally vocal trying to stop his beloved United on the pitch.
Follow the UEFA Europa League in depth with the official app, providing comprehensive and immersive coverage of the competition. Download the app now from your preferred provider.