There are many reasons to dislike many of the current crop of Manchester United players, but none to dislike Antonio Valencia. The United captain may have endured a disappointing season, plagued by injury troubles, but the 33-year-old is surely leaving the club with the admiration of the United faithful.
There is something ethereal about Valencia: a 21st-century footballer with the face and physique of one depicted on a 1920s cigarette card; a man who seems to conjure the noble sportsmanship of a bygone, perhaps fictitious age. It’s disconcerting to be reminded that time lays waste to even the timeless. Speaking as a supporter, I was genuinely proud to have him as club captain, and struggle to think of a player who’d command quite the same quiet respect in the dressing room now he’s gone.
The taciturn Ecuadorian leaves United after 10 years and over 300 appearances — only nine of which came in the current campaign. In that time he’s won two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, two League Cups and a Europa League, as well as the Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year a combined total of thrice. Gracias, Antonio. JS
Since Jack’s taken care of the praise for Valencia the footballer, as considered on his own merits, we should probably think a little about Valencia the footballer, and what he represented for Manchester United over the years. He was, notoriously, part of the weird clutch of players that arrived to replace Cristiano Ronaldo: him, Michael Owen, Gabriel Obertan, and Mame Biram Diouf.
Or, to put that as uncharitably as possible: a winger from Wigan, a knackered Scouser on a free, and two punts that looked dodgy at the time and only got dodgier. That the winger from Wigan turned out to be a decent servant both on the wing and at right-back doesn’t change the fact that he was an early sign of what was coming. When it came to shopping, Manchester United were getting very weird.
Arguably, Valencia’s continued presence in the first-team has served as further proof of this. United’s search for their post-Neville right-back has been a fraught one, made worse by Louis van Gaal’s damning distrust of the wonderful Rafael. This has meant that Valencia, an excellent and useful squad member, has often been the only viable option for the first team. Not his fault, of course, and it’s hard to fault the effort he’s put in for the club. And the search for a right-back goes on. AT