Ashley Young is relishing Monday's semi-final with Shakhtar as he discusses how his life has changed in Italy.
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At 34, Ashley Young left English football for the first time in his career in January to join Internazionale Milano.
He soon became the first England player since David Beckham in 2009 to score in Serie A, and the left wing-back is poised to line up against Shakhtar Donetsk in Monday's UEFA Europa League semi-final in Düsseldorf with the possibility of setting up a decider against his previous club Manchester United. Young spoke about the challenge of Shakhtar, his life in Italy and what he has learned from Inter coach Antonio Conte.
Shakhtar like to attack. Do you relish that kind of game against teams that are going to come at you that bit more?
Ashley Young: “If pushed, you tend not to want to play teams that just sit back and defend. You want to play teams that like attacking football, that basically you go toe-to-toe with, and whoever plays well on that day comes out on top. I think it’s going to be a very good game.
“We’ve seen videos of them; we saw them against Basel the other day, and they are a good team. They wouldn’t be in the semi-final if they weren’t. So everyone is relishing the opportunity to play against them, to test ourselves again.We’ll see what happens come the end of the 90 minutes.”
Is it a motivating factor that you could face your old club United in the final?
Young: "No. Obviously, that’s where we want to get to, the final, but we’re not thinking about any opponent or who we’re going to play against. Our concentration is on Shakhtar, that’s the next game. That’s what we’re thinking about; that’s where all our focus is."
As someone who has played and lived in England all their life, what it was like to move to Inter?
Young: “Obviously being in England all my life, it was a totally different change, but it was an experience that I jumped at. It was an opportunity for me to go and play regularly. I spoke to [Manchester United manager] Ole [Gunnar Solskjær] and he said that I wasn’t going to play as much as I wanted to, and when you’re coming towards the end of your career you want to be playing as much as you can. I’m as fit as anyone, and I feel like I’ve still got a lot to give.
“For me, age is nothing but a number. Ole said that he was going to bring younger players through and, and that I wasn’t going to have as many opportunities. When the opportunity arose to come to Inter, it was a no-brainer for me. I was like, ‘Get me on the plane, get me out there. Get me signed on the dotted line.’ I was just speaking to the manager and players that were here that I knew as well. It was a fantastic opportunity; a club that’s massive worldwide, one of the biggest teams in world football.
"And I wanted to be part of what the manager had spoken to me about, and obviously speaking to club officials higher up as well, the owners; it was an opportunity that I couldn’t miss.
“I don’t think it’s been challenging; I’m one of those people that can adapt to new styles, different ways of life. Like I said, it was going to be a totally new experience for me, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Now I’m playing with a smile on my face, I’m enjoying the way things are going at the club. I think the only thing that I’m missing from back home is probably Mum’s cooking, whereas when I was at Manchester, she used to be able to send me food, so that’s the only difference. But the way of life out in Milan is unbelievable, the people, the food is exceptional. So I’m not complaining!”
Tactically, what have you learned from Antonio Conte? What does he demand from you?
Young: “He demands everything, not just in matches, in training as well. You can tell he’s a winner. He wants to win, and he demands that from all the players, a winning mentality. Everyone’s got that. Obviously, it’s more of a tactical league than I’ve been used to, but it’s one of those things you have to adapt to pretty quickly and I felt I have adapted to that.
“Playing the wing-back position, there’s a lot of running to do, getting forward, defending. But as the way that we play, you’re more on the front foot and playing as an attacker, and it’s felt like a new lease of life being able to get on the scoresheet and get assists. I’m used to that, but when I was back at United, I was more of an out-and-out defender, having to defend more. When you’re here, you’ve got a licence to get forward more than staying back.”
What’s the mood in the camp like? In Düsseldorf watching your training the other day, Antonio Conte was haring round into slide tackles. Can you explain that?
Young: “That’s just something we do, 'a torello' [keep away] that we do before sessions. And the manager, in these last few weeks has been getting involved. It’s good to see. It’s actually nice when we keep him in the middle, keep him running about, so then he doesn’t shout as much after training. But he tends to get out of the middle quite often. It’s just one of those things; you see that the team spirit we’ve got here is unbelievable. Everybody’s fighting for each other; everybody wants to win.
"And that’s not just in games, that’s in training as well. There are arguments, there’s fight, and when you’ve got that off the pitch and take that onto the pitch, everyone fights for each other, and that’s why I’m glad that I’m a part of that. Everybody’s got that winning mentality.
"Everyone’s smiling, everyone’s happy. It’s obviously hard work, but it’s work that you enjoy doing when things pay off, and if we get to the final in this competition, it’ll be hard work definitely paying off."