Villa Unwrapped: Luke Young

This week Heart of the Holte’s Ryan Pitcher spoke with former Villa and England full back Luke Young.

We discussed a number of things with him including the upcoming FansBet Star Sixes event that’s taking place at the SSE Arena in Glasgow during the first weekend of 2019. Needless to say, we also chatted about his time at the club.

We’ve included the full interview in written form as well as video. Unfortunately due to connection issues the quality of the audio isn’t as good as what we had anticipated.

I’d like to speak to you about the upcoming FansBet Star Sixes in January. Which player are you most looking forward to playing with and why?

“Playing with – in my own side – I’m looking forward to playing with Joe Cole again. I’m pretty sure that he’ll still be really fit and in six-a-side football you need to have legs in your side. And I think that he’ll be a great five-a-side player (we would call them in the training games that we used to have) and I just think that Joe Cole could be a big player for us (England).”

And who are you looking forward to potentially coming up against?

“Probably my old team mater Stan Petrov. He’ll want to it so it’ll be a competitive game against whichever team Stan is playing in! He will be going for the trophy, will Stan. Other than that maybe Ryan Giggs – because I didn’t really get too close to him 15-20 years ago so I’ll be interested to see now that he’s in his mid- forties whether or not I can closer to him!”

Which would you say is more physically demanding: 6-a-side football or 11-a-side?

“I think that when you’re a retired footballer of a certain age and perhaps not keeping yourself in the best shape then I think that six-a-side can be the more challenging – generally because it’s none-stop and you’re involved throughout the game. Eleven-a-side you can perhaps take a little bit of a breather and fill in at the back but six-a-side is none-stop and you get the jelly legs and if someone’s trying to get at you and you’re struggling a bit it can be quite challenging.”

At the last Sixes event it was Spanish right-back Michel Salgado who actually finished top of the goal scoring charts – obviously a player that plays in your position. Are you looking to emulate that? Do you think that you could be in with a shout for the golden boot?

“I actually really used to enjoy five-a-sides in training and actually managed to get on the score sheet quite regularly! But I’m not sure that I’ll get the minutes required (to score a lot of goals). Obviously there’s some big players in the England side and so if I can force my way into the starting six and get the minutes then you never know! But I’m definitely looking forward to getting forward and nicking a couple.”

So have you been training for the Sixes event in January?

“Not so much football wise but I have started to do a few runs now. Because I remember playing in the last tournament as a late replacement and so I hadn’t been doing the physical activity that I should’ve been doing leading up to the first game – against Spain actually. And I was really struggling in the first two or three minutes! But the next day I was a lot better and so I know this year I need to come into it in better shape than the last time.”

You played for the Villa between the years 2008-2011. Arguably some of the best football I’ve seen at Villa Park in my lifetime. In those three years at the club, who was the best player that you played alongside and why?

“That’s a difficult question. As you mentioned, we had a good side back then. We had Barry, Petrov, Milner, Young, Laursen, Dunne and Downing. It’s really tough to pick one but if I had to go for one I’d probably say James Milner. The reason being is that I could just tell that he was going to go on to bigger and better things. But I just wish that he stayed for another year with us in centre-midfield because I felt that he was always going to become a centre-midfield player but he ended up going to Man City and playing out wide again. Obviously he won titles and such but I just feel that if he had of stayed another year with us then he might’ve moved onto another side and actually cemented a centre-midfield somewhere else.”

Taking you back to the 2008-09 season – your first year with the club – we were well in the hunt for a top four finish. That year we were going really strong and having drawn the first leg at home to CSKA Moscow in the ‘Round of 32’ of the UEFA Cup Martin O’Neill opts to field a team full of youngsters in the second leg away in Moscow (which we lost). After that our season derailed and some fans look back at that and think the reason why it went downhill from there is because we lost the momentum that we had. What do you think the real reason was?

“I actually went over to Moscow and captained the side that night – which sort of tells you we had a really young side obviously if I was captain. It was difficult game. I think that maybe if we had have won the first leg then he would’ve sent a more experienced side. But looking at after that game – I don’t think it impacted the rest of the season. I just think that with our squad the manager only trusted or played a select number of players. Maybe sixteen of a squad. Whereas the bigger sides rotated a lot more than what we did whereas we would often field the same team more weeks than not and maybe we just ran out of gas.”

“We were full steam ahead coming into January/February time and – as you said – we were in the hunt for a top four. But perhaps being in that top gear throughout those first few months just caught up with us especially because we were unable to chop and change the side like many of the top teams can.”

If I recall correctly we were eight points clear of Arsenal in the top four with eight games to go. With what happened thereafter and Randy Lerner pulling the plug… had we been able to finally make the promise lands of the Champions League and the finances that come with it, then do you think that that would’ve changed the future course of Aston Villa football club?

“Possibly. At that stage it was very difficult to break into the top four. We hadn’t seen what Leicester did recently – that sort of thing just didn’t seem possible back then. The top four were so strong and it just seemed that no matter how much money you put at it – unless you were going to go crazy money – that fifth or sixth was the best that you could aim for. Perhaps Randy Lerner looked at that and felt that he didn’t want to keep on shelling out money for coming in the same position each year. I think we finished sixth three times in a row.”

In terms of your time at Villa what’s the best or perhaps funniest memory that you have?

“So many great memories. From that first season I think that we might still hold the record for an unbeaten run in the Premier League from a Villa side. I think we went 14 games perhaps and we really climbed the table. When you’re winning games the spirit around the camp is top drawer and training every day was a fun place to be.”

“Funniest moment at the club? That’s a difficult one really. We had some great times. I think that perhaps when Gerard Houllier in and he brought in a fitness guy and I remember being injured one weekend and he made the boys do five laps of the pitch for a cool down. So watching the lads slowly plodding around the pitch whilst I was watching and laughing from the treatment room was quite a funny occasion!”

And who was your best mate at Villa?

“I had a few good friends. I got on with everyone at Villa. At one time my little crew was Richard Dunne, James Collins and Stewart Downing. But as I’ve said, all the guys were great and we had a great team spirit there and results went fairly well for us. We just couldn’t quite push into that top four. But when you see the likes of some of the players that we had and where they went onto: Gareth Barry, James Milner, Stewart Downing at Liverpool as well. It shows that if we could’ve kept everyone together for a bit of a longer period then you never know what we could’ve done.”

Thanks for going through you time at Villa there, Luke. Lastly – what’s your predictions for the FansBet Star Sixes? Whose going to win it?

“It’s always a difficult one predicting whose going to win these types of competitions. Last year Denmark had a lot of younger guys who could get around the pitch and done really well. And some sometimes it’s about the age of the players and how athletic they are.

“If I had to pick one then I, obviously, think that we’re (England) in with a good shout. The Rest of the World team look really strong and as an outside bet possibly Wales – what with Bellamy and Giggs in their ranks. It’s tough to call but I’m really looking forward to it.”

We’d like to thank Luke for taking the time to talk with us and we wish him all the best for the future.

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