When Antonio Valencia signed for Manchester United last summer, it was on the back of United selling the world’s best player at the time- a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. Before coming to appreciate just how well Valencia has done on his debut season, there was this inevitable comparison between Ronaldo and Valencia- but it is not supposed to prove who the better player is. The fact that the Portuguese man was sold for a world record £80m and his Ecuadorian replacement bought for £16m puts that argument in to perspective.
It seems to have taken its time, but Valencia is Valencia. He cannot be called a replacement for Ronaldo, can anyone replace Ronaldo? What United’s new right winger has done is to show the fans what his style of play is like, and pretty consistently so far, whilst showing he has settled in to one of the biggest clubs in the world without causing much fuss- but with some steel. The latter point has been reiterated by Sir Alex Ferguson when he was speaking highly of Valencia. He said: “The good thing about him is that he’s as tough as boots, really tough. Valencia’s a quiet, shy boy. I don’t find, in a personality sense, that he’d be interested in trying to out-match Cristiano. But as you can see in his performance level, he’s unaffected by the position he’s playing.”
The position of Valencia is of course one that has been made famous by the last two right midfielders who represented the Red Devils. The fact that David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo both wore the famous no.7 shirt could have placed an unwanted burden on Valencia. Therefore, it was wise that Ferguson did not give that shirt to his new right midfielder. Unnecessary pressure would have been created. What Valencia has done on the right-wing is a textbook job of someone in that position. He clearly has the pace to take full-backs on, which he has never hesitated in doing, is improving his crossing almost on a game-by-game basis, makes sure he tracks back and has found an eye for scoring goals- something Ferguson has constantly encouraged him to do. He is currently United’s third top scorer.
If joining Manchester United means one thing, then the wealth of experience around Valencia is another added bonus. With Gary Neville behind him, as opposed to the inexperienced Rafael or a makeshift right-back such as Wes Brown, he can expect a kick up the backside or an arm around the shoulder in equal measures. Neville will have been guiding him through the early stages of his United career. At the attacking end of the pitch, it is noticeable to see just how much United’s star man Wayne Rooney has acknowledged the Ecuadorian’s contribution. His crosses have been met by Rooney on plenty of occasions and the way Valencia and the striker have linked up on the right-hand side has been fundamental to the space he receives to cross a good ball. More often than not Rooney runs to Valencia first when he celebrates scoring.
Due to the progression the midfielder has made on his debut season, and the plaudits he has won, he looks set for a lengthy and successful stay at the club. No two footballers are the same and Valencia has shown he is different to Ronaldo on the pitch, and certainly off it. The manager’s word and faith is the most important to the player and he is only second to Patrice Evra in terms of starting games this season.
Talk of him not being able to replace Ronaldo is looking like it is finally disappearing and, who knows, in time Valencia could begin to make his own name at Old Trafford.
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