Some bold words from the former Villa boss on Ashley Young in 2008

The phrase “world-class” is thrown around a lot by managers, pundits and fans in recent years.

The way a player is described as world-class can mean many different things to each individual and calling a player it, whether that be in front of your friends, family, or hearing a pundit or manager say it, tends to cause controversy.

However, when described as world-class by a manager, coach, or pundit, with a lot of people listening or watching someone do so, the individual in question is bound to hear or see it.

There’s no denying being called world-class is one of the highest complements in football. Being aligned with names like Diego Maradona, Pele, Bobby Charlton to name a few.

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This was the case in 2008, when a then 23-year-old Ashley Young scored an outstanding double to win Aston Villa’s Premier League fixture against Everton.

The winger turned full-back’s performance that day was “absolutely class” according to then Villa manager Martin O’Neill. So good in fact that the Northern Irishman described Young as a “world-class performer.”

“I think Ashley’s a world-class performer, I really do,” said O’Neill. “I don’t use [those words] too often but he’s absolutely class. And he’s far from reached his peak. If you look at other top quality players who are 22 or 23 and who are absolutely brilliant … you look at people like Ronaldo and Messi and ask how they can improve, but they do, they just get better.”

Ashley Young had re-joined Villa after almost a decade away from the club
Ashley Young had re-joined Villa after almost a decade away from the club

O’Neill wasn’t finished there. When asked if Young was on par with arguably the best two players of all-time, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in 2008, he went as far as saying the former England international is in the same bracket as the pair. He said:

“Yes. I’ve just put him in it. This is my opinion. I look at players; I see a lot of games in Europe, I watch a lot of football and you see a lot of players playing the game who are very functional. Some are decent, some are more than decent and some are very good. And then you have players who are absolutely exceptional and Ashley Young is absolutely exceptional.”

Now 35, Young is back at Villa Park after almost a decade away. In that time he’s won numerous trophies in England and Italy. However, he’s now back as an experienced figure who can come and help the Midlands team push for a top 10 finish next season as well as help younger players come through the ranks.

While away, he’s won a Premier League, a Serie A and has played in the Champions League and the World Cup for England.

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