We know precisely what David Moyes will feel about the theatrics which drove another wedge between Ashley Young and Manchester United supporters because he has told us before. It was last October that Moyes, as Everton manager, demanded that retrospective viewing was required to remove incidents of cheating like the one which had yesterday’s El Pais describing Young’s fall as a “piscinazo” (“a swimming pool dive”).
“If you do it and you get banned for it, it wouldn’t take long before you cut it out,” said Moyes, who fined Phil Neville a week’s wages after he had been booked for diving. “It wouldn’t take much.”
It is Young’s knowledge of his manager’s feelings on the subject that makes his second dive in three games – Real Sociedad’s Markel Bergara falling foul in the Anoeta Stadium on Tuesday night just like Crystal Palace’s Kagisho Dikgacoi did at Old Trafford in September – all the more bewildering.
Young cannot even claim he is entering new territory with Moyes, who will now have another conversation with his player on the issue.
Sir Alex Ferguson felt the same and his own testimony on the issue renders Young’s inclination even more bizarre. Ferguson reveals in his autobiography that he dropped Young because of the dive which saw Queen’s Park Rangers’ Shaun Derry dismissed at Old Trafford two seasons ago.
“I told him that the last thing he needed as a Manchester United player was a reputation for going down easily,” Ferguson said. “Going to ground too easily was not something I tolerated.”
When you observed Young’s surly march through the player/media mixed zone and straight up on to the team bus late on Tuesday – and then saw Antonio Valencia linger to sign Spanish supporters’ autographs – you wondered why a desire to be liked, that very fundamental human condition, does not provoke a reaction in the player. He is 28 years old now – no longer on the learning curve – yet as distant from fans as he is from those who report on United.
A random encounter with him in the Old Trafford players’ tunnel, after United’s 2-1 win over Arsenal a year ago, said just about everything. Players generally offer a negative headshake, perhaps a few words of apology when they decline the usual journalistic request of “Can you spare a minute”. Young pointed to the exit and kept on walking.
Young, one of the lowest-profile players in United’s squad, has given so few interviews that it is hard to discern if there is a specific problem. He spoke four years ago, after becoming a Kick It Out ambassador, revealing a capacity to disprove the doubters.
At the age of 16 and having spent six years with Watford’s juniors, Young was told he would not be given a YTS contract. He fought back and eventually secured a full-time deal at Vicarage Road. “I wanted to prove them wrong so I took the part-time option and I set about showing them I wanted it so badly. Within a year they had offered a professional contract,” he said.
But the controversy which contributes more to his sense of alienation leaves him fighting to save a United career that has never taken off. Many of those who watched him at close quarters were surprised to find Ferguson so willing to sanction his £18m signing two years ago in the first place. The view from Aston Villa – where Martin O’Neill paid £9.6m for his services in 2007 – was that Young found performances against weaker sides but could rarely reproduce them against top-six teams. He started moderately well at Old Trafford, levelled out and in Moyes’ four months his form has been dismal.
The view within the game is that the latest act of simulation is less severe than others. “The referee was very close and clearly saw Ashley Young being held, however briefly,” the Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive, Gordon Taylor, said yesterday. In Spain, Marca and AS made no mention of the controversial penalty in their match reports and Sport said the winger was pulled back. Spain is less absorbed by this issue than Britain, though Gareth Bale was pilloried recently for two dives.
The feeling grows that Young will join Anderson in Moyes’ first United clear-out, not least because of the force of nature that Adnan Januzaj has proved to be. One more reason for England’s manager, Roy Hodgson, to rue the preponderance of foreign players in the Premier League.
When Young does get another opportunity, it is safe to say that referees will view any supposed infringement of him in the area with deep suspicion. It feels like a very long way back for him from here.