With almost two-thirds of the season in the books, we’re at the time when we start taking stock of just how well - or not - this year has gone so far for United. So we put together three
people who responded to the email of our best writers to tackle one pressing question: Has Antonio Valencia been our best player?
Andi Thomas says YES
Antonio Valencia has been Manchester United's player of the season for one reason, and one reason only. It's not that he's nails-hard, although that's nice. It's not that he's actually turned into a very good right-back, although that's obviously nice as well. It's not even that he never seems to stop running up and down, up and down, up and down all game. Though nobody's complaining.
No, Valencia has been United's player of the season because this is the first season of Jose Mourinho, and of all the players at United, only Valencia has managed to truly nail being a Mourinho player. Relentless. Consistent. Relentless again. Consistent again. Over and over, up and down. Though there have been other strong performers, they've all had dry spells (Ibrahimovic), or taken their time to find their feet (Ander Herrera), or have more to come (Pogba). Valencia's been at it, from day one, and that's why he's been the best. For a club like United, it's not just about being good. It's about being on brand.
Jack Sargeant says NO
I feel the need to preface this paragraph with a caveat: Antonio, it's not you, it's me. A quiet, hard-working, model professional with thighs like tree trunks; every manager on the planet would love a squad full of Valencias. He's now racked up so many appearances in a red shirt that it's possible he'll eventually retire as a bona fide cult hero, and difficult to envisage him leaving a moment before. That said, I'm taking issue with the notion that we can reasonably award the Player of the Season prize to a full-back.
It's safe to say that United have taken significant strides this season, and the main reason isn't -- as pleasing as they have been -- Valencia's sturdy performances in defence. It seems to me, both literally and figuratively, that there have been other players more central to United success: Ander Herrera must surely be considered a strong contender as he continues to establish himself as one of the Premier League's most quietly productive midfielders; Zlatan Ibrahimović is still bailing United out with crucial goals, even on his quietest days; Juan Mata, a player whose United career seemed all but over when Mourinho arrived in the summer, has hit some fine form at a crucial point in the season. And so while rewarding Mr. Consistent with more than a pat on the back is certainly a romantic notion, it we're talking cold, hard contribution, it is difficult to argue that Valencia merits the prize.
Brent Maximin says YES
By the end of this season, Antonio Valencia will have made more appearances for United than Cristiano Ronaldo did, and more than double that of Eric Cantona. If those two illustrious former Players of the Season say much about United’s glorious past, and the mouth-watering promise of Paul Pogba says much about our (hopefully) bright future, Valencia says just as much about what we are right now. Our strapping Ecuadorian is not a player to get the pulses racing, and the right-back is hardly anyone’s idea of a match-winner. But by jove, he is consistent. He is begrudging respect made flesh.
If there is such a thing as maddeningly consistency, then our Tony V fits the description to a T. On paper, right-back should have been a position that needed addressing in the summer. After all, Valencia was an above-average right winger who first became a below-average right winger before eventually being converted into a sometimes shocking right-back. But after slowly growing into the position under Louis van Gaal, Valencia has become unquestionably good under José Mourinho.
Zlatan Ibrahimović’s goals have kept the team afloat, and Pogba’s flashes of genius have kept the fans entertained, but neither has been as reliable as Valencia. He may not be great, but he’s good enough, and more importantly, he’s good enough every week, for ninety minutes. Antonio Valencia: he’s not the hero we deserve, but he’s the one we need right now.