Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill believes there is no-one better at delivering a ball in the Premier League than wing wizard Ashley Young and has admitted the team are "a lesser side" without him.
Young himself recently joked that his dressing-room nickname should be "Atlas" because his legs are regularly left so black and blue after a match that they resemble a map; yet O'Neill believes the 21-year-old actually relishes being a marked man, because it confirms he has had a real impact on a game.
Young, who recently made the step up from England Under-21 to a fully-fledged England international, was the reason for a few raised eyebrows last January when O'Neill shelled out more than £9million to snap up the youngster from Watford.
Initially, Villa fans wondered if the player was worth his club record-breaking fee as he took time to settle into the Northern Irishman's new-look squad. But Young has proved his weight in gold, although his weight is a source of ironic amusement to his manager.
O'Neill quipped: "Ashley wouldn't be nine stone wet through, yet his legs are so strong. He doesn't get any great backlift when he goes to kick a ball but he can deliver a corner kick from a standing position.
"He's a class player. The great thing about his own self-belief and self-confidence is that teams are doubling up on him and ignoring other players but he doesn't mind at all. He's able to manoeuvre the ball from foot to foot and whip the ball in from a set-piece or, more importantly, from anywhere on the pitch. It is very dangerous and he is absolute class."
The Villa boss continued: "Ash often goes back out after training him, Craig Gardner and Shaun Maloney. He practises his delivery of the ball. I saw this sort of thing with him at Watford."
O'Neill is aware that Young is key to the team's fortunes this season when he was missing a fortnight ago through a one-match suspension, his side slumped to a surprising 2-1 defeat at the hands of struggling Fulham at Craven Cottage. He is also aware that Young will have to contend with a few more bumps and bruises as he works his craft on the wing for the rest of the season.
He said: "Ashley came limping off against Newcastle [after Saturday's 4-1 win at Villa Park] but he had done his work by then. The doctor said it was just bumps and bruises a bad back, a sore knee, sore everything! But what a player he is.
He was coming off in bits, but what a player!"
O'Neill added: "I actually think Ashley enjoys being a marked man because it means he's making an impact on the game.
When he came here this time last year, he was searching for confidence. After a very good opening game at Newcastle last season, the move had taken its toll and it was a case of trying to get that confidence going after that.
"But his confidence is sky high now and the crowd love him. He loves taking people on and there is no doubt we are a lesser team without him."
Young himself said he realised he and strike partner Gabriel Agbonlahor were the players most teams love to hate and opposing players love to kick up in the air, because their pace frightens opponents. Agbonlahor is out of action with a hamstring injury but both players flew out to Spain with the team on Monday for a few days of relaxation and training in the winter sunshine.
Young said: "I do get kicked about a few times and so does Gabby and I think it is because we frustrate players. The physio looked at my legs the other day and said they were black and blue. It looks like I have a map on there with all the bruises! But Gabby and I are out there to do a job and if our pace frightens the opposition, then that has to be good."