By George Overhill

16th May, 2023 | 12:10pm

Willy Gnonto reveals 'annoying' Aston Villa man who was toughest opponent in debut Leeds United season

Ashley Young is the toughest opposition defender that Willy Gnonto has faced in his first season in England with Leeds United because he was “annoying”.

Unai Emery’s side won 2-1 in a tight game against the run of play at Villa Park on 13 January, in what was arguably the Italian’s finest outing for the club where he assisted Patrick Bamford’s strike and was praised heavily throughout by Gary Neville on Sky Sports.

Veteran former winger Young has been evergreen this year as a full-back on either side for Villa at the age of 37, making it a fair accolade to be named by the Leeds United star above all others in what he calls the “best” league.

Gnonto told Cronache di Spogliatoio: “In the Premier League it’s not easy to dribble: everyone studies everyone so they know what you prefer to do and how you most commonly behave. 

“You always have to train and think about doing something unexpected, it’s exciting because it stimulates you to try and do new things. 

“The defender who put me in the most difficulty was Ashley Young because he was annoying: he kept talking, making himself heard and getting inside my head. 

“I stayed focused on the match and personally it went well, I even made an assist. I’ve always been convinced that I chose Leeds, the Premier League is the best.”


Gnonto was close to undroppable at the point where he put in the performance against Young in January, but his season has taken a number of turns since.

Jesse Marsch was sacked less than a month later, and once Javi Gracia took over it spelled a relegation to the bench (at best) which remains one of the least logical decisions made at the club in a campaign full of poor ones.

Even so, his first year in the Premier League has to be considered a major success given the huge elevation in his profile since he arrived as an afterthought on the 1 September deadline day.

Four goals and four assists in all competitions don’t tell the whole story of the Italian international’s contribution, where he went through periods of being the lone bright spark in barren runs of Leeds United form.

He hasn’t been perfect but he adapted faster to the English top flight faster as a 19-year-old than many of the biggest names in football have been able to, and the fact that clubs as big as Chelsea, Juventus and Manchester City have been linked since show that.

With top flight survival in the balance heading into the final two games fans might wonder whether if it would already be locked up if Gnonto had been given more of a role in the final weeks of the campaign, but whatever happens before the season ends it seems unlikely that he will be kept from prominence for long whether it be at Elland Road or elsewhere.

In other Leeds United news, Neville dropped a “madness” verdict in reaction to Whites footage as he identified what Sam Allardyce has done.