Aston Villa’s Ashley Young speaks exclusively to Sky Sports about being the squad’s “grandad” and setting the standards as club captain for Steven Gerrard’s side; watch Aston Villa vs Southampton on Friday, live on Sky Sports Premier League from 7pm; kick-off 8pm
“I think some would say I’m the senior member of the squad,” Ashley Young exclusively tells Sky Sports, “…or some would say, the grandad of the squad!”
After all, at the age of 37, Young is Aston Villa’s oldest player.
But Villa’s veteran belied his age against Manchester City as he came off the bench to replace the injured Matty Cash in the 27th minute to keep Phil Foden – 15 years his junior – quiet and help his team to a vital 1-1 home draw against the champions.
Young’s performance was described as “magnificent” by Villa boss Steven Gerrard, who said he “epitomised everything” he needed from his side.
“Of course it’s always nice for a player to hear the manager come out and give you praise,” Young says.
“I’m old school, so a lot’s probably spoken about on social media, but for me, as long as my team-mates, my family and the staff that are here give me positive feedback, that’s all that matters to me.”
Young’s appearance against City was the 651st of his 19-year career, in which he has won five major honours including the Premier League at Manchester United and Serie A with Inter Milan.
Now in his second spell at Villa, having re-joined them last summer after four-and-a-half years at Villa Park from January 2007, Young was given the role of club captain in July.
“I’m a leader, I’m ambitious, I’m determined and I still want to achieve – no matter my age,” he says.
“The squad we’ve got here is a young squad that players will ask questions and I’m always there to help them, to answer them.
“It’s leading by example, it’s just how I am, it’s just how I’ve been brought up with my feet on the ground and wanting to achieve and be the best person I am.
“Day in, day out I’m going to be setting the standard and treating people with respect, and hopefully getting that respect as well.”
Young’s character, reliability and experience was exactly why Gerrard offered him a one-year deal this summer, which he signed in July despite interest from other clubs.
“It was probably the easiest decision I’ve made,” Young says. “I know my love for the club. The size of the club; it’s growing, the ambition and the owners want to progress this club – it should be back in Europe.
“I’ve bought into that and, as soon as I was told about the club wanting to offer me another year, I was literally like, give me the pen, where do I sign?!”
Part of Young’s enthusiasm for staying at Villa was to continue working for his former England team-mate Gerrard, who is only five years his senior.
Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard and Ashley Young played together for England
“He was a big factor in that,” Young reveals. “I played with him as a player, and he’s got that same ambitious way as a manager.”
Young has worked under some big-name bosses, having been coached by Sir Alex Ferguson, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho at United, while he enjoyed a spell under Antonio Conte at Inter Milan.
So how does Gerrard compare to them?
“He’s as ambitious, he’s got that winning mentality,” he says. “He obviously worked under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.
“I think he’s spoken to, as I still call him, ‘The Boss’, Sir Alex (Ferguson), so I’d say he’s taken little bits and pieces from them – but he’s got his own ways as well.
“He knows how to deal with the players in the right way, whether they need an arm around them or a subtle telling off. His man-management skills are very good.
“At times you can laugh and joke, but when it’s training, it’s serious and that’s when it’s down to business.
“He’s got that aura about him, which he of course had as a player, and he’s now got that as a manager as well.
“He’s an ambitious person; he knows where he believes he can take the club to, and I think all the players have bought into that, and know that we can get higher and higher up the table.”
Gerrard and his squad certainly need to be aiming much higher than their current Premier League position.
Villa sit 17th and are only above the relegation zone on goals scored. In fact, it’s their joint-worst start to a Premier League season after six games, with just four points.
But the draw against City – which ended a three-league game losing run – must now be a turning point for Villa, according to Young.
“We talked about stuff before the [City] game in-house,” he reveals, “and I think you could see that in the way the boys went out and performed with bodies on the line and the way that we celebrated after the game.”
Asked whether there is now more positivity in the group, he replies: “Yeah there is, especially with how things had gone before the City game.
“I think we can take a lot of confidence out of the City game and push on from here and look to build on that.
“We’re not even at the end of September yet, so there’s plenty of points and games to make sure that these first six games are forgotten about.”
But Villa’s momentum has been on pause after last Saturday’s match at Leicester was postponed following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
The postponement gave Young and his family the chance to pay their respects to Her Majesty.
“I took my children down into London around Green Park, around Buckingham Palace over the weekend,” he says.
“When you’re able to do things like that, it’s just nice to do that. I think they enjoyed – it was a bit of a history lesson for them and probably for myself as well to be honest.”
The Premier League resumes this weekend, with Aston Villa looking for their second win of the season as they host Southampton on Friday Night Football, live on Sky Sports.
Young could be set for his first Premier League start of the campaign against Saints, with Cash likely to be out injured.
“I’m always ready to play,” Young says. “I’m ready to play in whatever position the manager wants me to play.”
If indeed he does make the line-up, Young will become the third oldest outfield player this season to start a Premier League game.
Young, who is due to take his UEFA B and A licences throughout this season, turns 38 in July – so is he thinking about retirement at all?
“I’ve not thought about it, just because I think I can still play, I still feel fit,” he says. “People talk about age, especially in this country, but to me it’s just a number.
“If you’re fit, then I think you can play as long as you want and I think that’s my ambition.
“It might take me a few more days to recover after games, but I know how to treat my body and I know what I have to eat and drink.
“I obviously need to think about when I do retire, but I don’t think I’m ready to retire anytime soon.”