Young at heart of more fruitful Valley

International calls a headache for the manager but a joy for the club. Ronald Atkin reports
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The Independent Football

With a smile and a shake of the head, Curbishley concedes he has never known times like it at The Valley. "Jonathan Spector is going to Boston with the US, Dennis Rommedahl is travelling an outrageous distance with Denmark [to Kazakhstan]."

Then there is the growing number of his English players catching the selectorial eye. Chief among them is the 26-year-old Luke Young, who has slotted efficiently into Sven Goran Eriksson's side as a right-back replacement for the injured Gary Neville. An eyebrow or two was raised in the summer of 2001 when Curbishley stumped up £3 million to Tottenham for Young, then a utility defender. But Young's acclaim from Charlton's fans as last season's Player of the Year was proof that the outlay had been wise.

"When we bought him he had played most of his games for Spurs at left-back, then centre-back and then right-back," said Curbishley, who from the start had Young operating at right-back. "It took him a while to adjust to becoming a regular, and what that means. In his first season he was quite quiet. But he has grown every year. There are not many times when a club's Player of the Year is a full-back. So his consistency has got him where he is. In terms of buys he was quite costly, but he was young and wanted to come to us, so he was a good buy. And he has paid us back."

Young readily admits feeling that leaving Spurs could have been a backward step. "I was 22 and Alan said to me, 'You want to be a right-back, here's your chance'. Obviously I'm benefiting from that now and I'm thankful to him."

Putting himself in Eriksson's shoes (a position many in England would like to see him filling on a permanent basis), Curbishley said: "When as a manager you lose a stalwart like Neville, you have a big decision to make. Do you bring in someone who doesn't normally play right-back or do you give someone a chance whose natural position it is? That is what Sven has done. He has decided to go for the natural-position man. He could have changed things around, but perhaps he has already done that a bit too often."

Curbishley did not attempt to muffle pride when he claimed: "Luke has settled in well. He just gets on with it. Never spectacular, but a good performance every week. He has got the major ingredient, pace. And he does like to get forward. I always thought he would be quite comfortable in the England team."

Young's success has come as no surprise, either, to his Charlton mates. "He has been so consistent," said Matt Holland. "That's what stands out for me really. He's an outstanding defender first and foremost. He marks very tightly, cuts off the supply, and very rarely does a winger get the better of him. But he also gets forward, he's got great ability to get up and down."

In the opinion of Chris Powell, who himself played full-back for England: "There are not too many top right- backs, it's Gary Neville and A N Other. I think Luke looked at it and decided that if he got himself right, which he has, there would be a chance.

"I can't remember the last time Luke made a mistake," added Powell. "As well as being reliable, a big word in football is trust. And you can trust him in his position. He will do whatever is asked."

Eriksson trusted Young enough to give him his international baptism on England's summer tour of North America, though it amounted to a total of just 19 minutes as a substitute against the United States and Colombia. Then Neville's injury let the Charlton man in for starts against Wales and Northern Ireland. As Young says: "Everything has happened very quickly in terms of getting into the England squad, then the team. The only disappointing thing was the result in Belfast."

Now Young could be joined by colleagues Darren Bent, and possibly a resurgent Danny Murphy, when the squad to face Austria and Poland is announced today, while Jerome Thomas has been called up for the Under-21 side.

Happy days at The Valley, whatever Curbishley says about the problems caused by international demands.