Devious Angle: Antonio Valencia Vs The Twinkle Toes




Antonio Valencia

Antonio Valencia

In the middle of September, few would have predicted that Valencia would play again this season for Manchester United, if at all ever. However, it is a testament to the Ecuadorian winger’s grit and mentality that he not only made a recovery from a broken leg and a dislocated ankle by the end of February, but also made vital contributions to reignite the Red Devils’ stuttering chances of lifting the Premier League. Now, with their 19th league title firmly in the closet, United will be looking to their wing-man to come good one last time this season when they take on Barcelona at Wembley as they challenge for their 4th European title.

Lago Agrio is a place described by Lonely Planet as an “unkempt oil town, not high on tourists’ lists” and advises that any visitors should “keep their heads down”. It was in conditions like these that Luis Antonio Valencia Mosquera was born on 4th August 1985. He grew up helping his mother sell drinks outside a stadium and also scanning the streets for empty glass bottles which his father would then sell to a recycling operation. He grew up playing barefooted on dusty stadiums and in an environment where pollution and drug trafficking were taking their toll on the population. Luckily for young Luis, he was spotted by a scout when he was 11 and entered into the local sports academy in Sucumbios. By the time he was 16, Luis had matured into a fine player and he left home to go play for El Nacional without the knowledge of his father but with the backing of his mother and the eldest of his five brothers, also leaving behind his lone sister.

Valencia began in Central midfield for El Nacional and did well to be snapped up by Villareal in 2005. And while he failed to make an impact there he helped Recreativo de Huelva, where he was on loan, to gain promotion to the La Liga. Subsequently, he was sent out on loan again to Wigan Athletic where he impressed the owners sufficiently to earn him a permanent move to the English club. He performed admirably at Wigan and drew applause from all corners of the game. So, it was no surprise when Sir Alex Ferguson came knocking at the door and sealed a £16m move for the winger, ahead of other interested clubs including the ever-so-greedy Real Madrid.

Valencia had huge expectations placed on his shoulders as he was being seen as a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best players Old Trafford had seen. It is perhaps a tribute to his upbringing and his self-reliance that Luis Antonio Valencia hasn’t buckled in the least, making his way into the PFA Players’ Team of the year in his very first season at Manchester United. He had such a good season in fact, that Wayne Rooney who was in devastating form last year – scoring 26 goals in the premier league – said he couldn’t have done it without the quality crosses supplied by Valencia. And in his second season for United, Valencia has continued to put in astonishingly good displays whenever he has played to make sure that he remains on the team sheet ahead of the likes of Nani, who himself has had a good season winning the Players’ Player of the year award at Manchester United.

When Sir Alex brought in Valencia, he would have known better than anybody else that this Ecuadorian winger had a direct style of play down the touchline in total contrast to the departed Ronaldo and would have been amongst the first to tell him not to be in the shadow of the former number 7, but to make his own path at the club. With a no nonsense style of play and with tearing speed to match, Valencia has delivered a whole different aspect to Manchester United’s style of play. And with the emergence of Javier Hernandez as a lethal target in the air, no one will question Valencia’s hesitancy to cut in and go for goal himself. While one agrees that there are times when Valencia tends to hesitate and delay the ball, it is something that he will learn with time at a club which is as precise and clinical at counter-attacking as Manchester United. And while one would also love to see Valencia cut inside the fullback at times when support is scarce and he can leave the defenders behind for pace, one can have very little complaint about how Valencia can hold the ball up with his upper-body strength until support arrives. Another aspect to Valencia’s game is his willingness to track back and an endurance which allows him the energy to do so for the entire length of a game. This might turn out to be crucial in the game against Barcelona where United are expected to be dominated in possession and spend much time behind the ball. However, if there is one clear aspect of Barcelona that is vulnerable to exploitation, it has to be their fullbacks as seen most recently in the Champions League semi-finals. And if there is one man in the Manchester United line-up that Sir Alex will be looking to take advantage, it will be Luis Antonio Valencia. Will he deliver? Wembley has the answer.

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