A week ago, Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia quashed all the exit rumours by signing a 3-year extension with the club, a move that failed to excite many of the club’s supporters. Once David Moyes got the sack, a major squad overhaul was expected which primarily means getting rid of the deadwood. But then, very few expected Antonio Valencia to play under the new manager Louis Van Gaal, owing to a disastrous last ten to twelve months. In this piece, we’ll look at the best and worst of Antonio Valencia in his time at Old Trafford and a glimpse at what he could possibly offer under the new boss.
Valencia became Manchester United’s first summer signing of the 2009/10 season, having cut his holiday short to have a medical with the club. He signed a four-year contract for an undisclosed fee, rumoured to be in the region of £16 million. He had a very good first season at the club, to be honest. His tireless and productive wing play contributed to the best form of Wayne Rooney’s career, as he assisted the striker on numerous occasions in the winter and spring. He then missed six months of the following term with a broken leg but surprised almost everyone with how seamlessly he returned.
His best season statistically should be the 2011/12 season when Manchester United lost the league on goal difference. Antonio Valencia had finally come of age and his 13 assists from open play that season drew comparisons, credible comparisons with former winger Andrei Kanchelskis. He scored 4 goals himself that season – the number of goals he would go onto score in his next two seasons with the club combined. More than just the materialistic contribution, he looked supremely confident on the ball, ran past full-backs like a Porsche taking on a mini van while most of those runs ended up with productive crosses. Having completed 25% of crosses that season, he created a total of 65 chances with 48 having come from open play – while in his last season he managed to create 24 chances from open play with a much poorer 17% of crossing accuracy.
Arguably, Valencia was named United fans’ Player of the Year for the 2011/12 season and subsequently asked for the No.7 shirt. He scored just once and claimed six assists in Ferguson’s final title-winning season. He has earned the nickname “Turn around Toni” and he’s been nothing but a one-trick pony these days. Valencia, in David Moyes’ era used to approach a full-back unconvincingly and smack the ball straight at him. Unlike several other United players, he did not suddenly regress in the aftermath of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement; he actually played worse under Ferguson.
Valencia, Nani, the unloved Ashley Young and the unwanted Wilfried Zaha have come to symbolise United’s malaise on the wing. Realistically, United could not sell all of them in the same summer, however it sends out an unambitious statement when mediocrity is recognised with a new deal and new signings are yet to arrive. Now Valencia, 30 next year, has received an excessive reward for fruitlessness. It will be fascinating to see how or where he fits into Louis van Gaal’s 4-3-3/3-5-2 system but he should not have had the chance to prove himself to the Dutchman.