In July of 2009, Manchester United lost one the club;s greatest ever footballers, Cristiano Ronaldo. Without doubt he was, and in some ways is, still is my favourite footballer; behind Ruud Van Nistelrooy though.
It was a huge deal, the biggest transfer the footballing world had ever seen. So it was safe to assume we had some transfer funds available to replace one of the worlds best, right? We were going to sign some fantastic players to replace him, right?
United went on to make four signings that summer, Gabriel Obertan, Michael Owen, Mame Biram Diouf, and finally, Antonio Valencia. That doesn’t sound too amazing now does it? Out of the four, I had never heard of Obertan or Diouf, never thought too much about Valencia, and was completely stunned signing Owen. It really didn’t seem like Sir Alex Ferguson had done enough to replace Ronaldo, where did all that money go?
Antonio Valencia was a fast, strong winger playing for Wigan. As I’ve said, I never thought much of him, he’s always been a decent player I suppose but a replacement for Ronaldo? C’mon Fergie. He went on to have a great season in fairness; for me when I think of the 2009/2010 season (bar the whole losing the title part) I think of how many times we seen Valencia crossing in from the right-wing to the head of Rooney who would slot it home. He was a stand out player that season and had such a physical presence, that lad was huge!
That season we won the Carling Cup against Aston Villa and Valencia won Man Of The Match for that game. Guess what happened in that game? Valencia crossed the ball in and Rooney headed home the winner. I honestly don’t know how many goals were scored from that combination I’m guessing a lot. He earned himself a place in the Premier League Team of the Year.
The next season, United went on to lift a record-breaking 19th league title ans Valencia picked up a terrible injury. During a Champions League match he fractured and dislocated his ankle and his ligaments were damaged. This kept him out for about five months. He went on to become the first Ecuadorian to win the Premier League and started in the Champions League final loss to Barcelona.
So after a successful first season for him personally and a successful second in terms of the team it was about to get even better for Valencia. At the start of the season he signed a new four-year deal which extended his contract until the summer of 2015. Playing for Ecuador he picked up an injury which kept him out for all pre-season and the start of the new season. One stand-out game was Arsenal away where he scored United’s first and assisted the winning second.
On 2 April 2012 he scored an amazing ”Roberto Carlos-esque” goal against Blackburn Rovers which was very important in the title race. In total, he scored six goals and assisted many more. United lost the league title on the last day but let’s not talk about that. Valencia went on to win Manchester United player of the season which was a fantastic achievement and well deserved.
This is where things went downhill. At the start of the next season, where we went on to win the title in Fergie’s last season, Valencia was handed the #7 shirt and has never been the same since. His performances dipped dramatically last season, he became so frustrating. In total he scored one goal all season but that doesn’t even matter. This is a player who burst past players with ease last season and now he can’t seem to beat anyone. On the rare occasion he does get past his man, he turns back and tries again. The quality his crossing had dipped dramatically as well. In summary, an awful personal season for Valencia but a successful one for the club. Next season he’ll be back to normal right?
Wrong, if anything he may have gotten worse. David Moyes took over and in truth a lot of players have been poor this season but Valencia is on a new level of ‘poor’. He took back his #25 shirt which he called lucky and boy it didn’t turn out to be lucky at all. Valencia seems to have lost the ability to beat his man and cross the ball. (We all know how important crossing is for David Moyes)
In all competitions he has four, yes four, assists this season. Which is awful considering that he his main job as a winger. In contrast Juan Mata has assisted three since arriving in January. It’s just not good enough, he is becoming more frustrating than Nani and that’s an incredible feat.
So replacing one of the world’s greatest at a huge this size was never going to be easy, but a player from Wigan seemed to be doing a great job. I don’t think even the man himself knows why his performances have plummeted. Will we ever see the Valencia of old? I’m not convinced.
By Luke Bracken