Ashley Young talks about how he got to where he is today.
By Stuart Mawhinney
During the past season we have featured a number of England Senior players as they tell the story from the very beginning. As Ashley Young is unveiled as a Manchester United player, we take another look at his start in the game."I played as a striker from the first day, the main man up front.
The first club I played for was Stevenage Colts, at the age of five. The only reason I played for them was because my older brother played for that team. I stayed in that position throughout my childhood. I joined Watford at ten years old and played there, pretty much until I went to Aston Villa."I didn't really have a growth spurt until I was 17 and I’m probably still one of the smaller players, but I never let it affect me.
When other kids are taller and stronger you have to work harder on your touch and technique, it's even more important. As you progress you work out ways to beat people who are bigger and stronger, but when you're a kid you don't really think about it in any detail, you just play to enjoy it."The Watford Academy has a fantastic reputation.
If you look at all the players who have come from that system, they have produced an awful lot of good players and they do a brilliant job. With the coaches I grew up with, they were fantastic to me and I had an opportunity to improve as a player and then get the chances I've had."When I was 16 I was told I wouldn't be offered a YTS contract, I could leave the club or stay on part-time while I was going to school back where I lived in Stevenage.
I was training twice a week with the boys that did get those YTS contracts, and those situations are all about character. It's a case of whether you have the right attitude and belief in your own ability to turn it around. Say to yourself you believe in the ability you have, and show people you deserve to be given a chance. "I always had belief.
Luckily for me, within a year I was playing two or three levels up in the youth teams, and I was also playing reserve team football. I was disappointed but I never thought I wouldn't make it into the first team. They tested me but it was definitely what I needed at that point in my life, I've never looked back since and within a year I was offered a first team professional contract before any of the other lads that were on the YTS."Aidy Boothroyd gave me a chance to go and express myself.
When he came in I was at the stage where I was in and out of the first team, travelling to games and being on the bench or in the stand. When the new gaffer came in it was like everyone was on trial again. He didn't know too much about the group of players, and it was a chance I grabbed with both hands and pushed on from there. When you're an attacking player, being given that freedom is all you can ask for from a manager. "When I was 16 the England Under-21s were having a training camp near us at Watford and they needed an extra player.
David Platt asked for Andy McNamee but he was ill at the time, so I was next in line. It was the first time I'd had anything to do with England and it was an incredible experience. There were players like Jermain Defoe, Jermaine Jenas, Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Joe Cole, unbelievable for me at the time. It was daunting but I really enjoyed it."My first cap for England was at Under-21 level (v Switzerland in 2006) and it was an amazing honour.
To be able to pull on an England shirt feels fantastic, as a kid you dream of having that opportunity and it came true for me. I loved every minute of it, I was so proud."My first major tournament came soon after with the European Under-21s Championship in Holland.
It was a great tournament but the way we lost on penalties was disappointing. It was good for me personally to be able to go and show what I was about, the team did brilliantly to get where we did and we felt we could have gone on and won if not for the penalties. I think it was 13-12 in the end, I remember taking two penalties in the shoot out which is not something you ever think is going to happen. It was an amazing evening, but we were devastated to lose. A lot of players who were there have grown up and are now in the senior squad, so those experiences can only make you stronger."I made my Senior debut against Austria later that year, it was a freezing cold night in Vienna.
It was a really proud moment for my family and everyone who has helped me along the way and a huge honour personally to reach that level and play for England. It came not long after my move to Aston Villa, it was a really eventful year for me, and hopefully I can add to the caps I have already."This interview came from the England v France official match programme in November. To download an ipreview, click here. To get your copy of the programme, click here, or to subscribe to ensure you always get your programme delivered to your door, click here.