Home > Football > Flying under the radar: Antonio Valencia

Flying under the radar: Antonio Valencia

Manchester United is arguably the biggest club in world football so it may seem strange to say that one of its players flies under the radar. However, even big clubs have unsung heroes and Ecuadorian winger Antonio Valencia certainly fits in to this category. Whilst the likes of Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Nani take the plaudits on a weekly basis, Valencia’s performances often go unnoticed. He does not however, make an issue of this and instead just focuses on playing as well as he can and helping his team win matches. His contribution to United’s latest title charge cannot be overstated.

At the beginning of the season, it did not look like Valencia would be a key component of a potentially title-winning team. Whilst representing Ecuador at last summer’s Copa America, he sustained an ankle injury which forced him to miss United’s entire pre-season training and tour. The club’s blistering start to the season, coupled with the excellent form of Ashley Young and Nani, meant that Valencia initially struggled to force his way back in to Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. The Scot’s squad rotation policy and injuries to Young presented the Ecuadorian with a chance to re-establish himself and he has not looked back since.

Only Manchester City’s David Silva can better Valencia’s 11 Premier League assists and he has played ten more games than the United winger. In short, it is no coincidence that Wayne Rooney’s sudden surge in scoring has come at the same time Valencia has had a prolonged run in the starting line-up. Rooney has in fact publically lauded the winger’s ability to keep it simple and whip perfect balls in for him to convert. This is where Valencia differs from the club’s other star wingers, Nani and Ashley Young. He does not possess the natural skill and trickery of these two, but he is quicker and more direct. Whereas Young and Nani often look to beat a defender more than once, Valencia does not. He instead uses searing pace and excellent physical strength to leave defenders in his wake before crossing for the likes of Rooney and Hernandez. It would be fair to say that Valencia is one of football’s few remaining out-and-out, old-fashioned wingers. He is also extremely hard-working and very much a team player. He always helps out the full-back, often covering if the defender has pressed further up the field and he has in fact sometimes played right-back himself during injury crises. This aspect of his play is a clear advantage over Nani and in fact, Sky commentators remarked during last week’s victory over Fulham that playing behind Valencia must be easy as you do not have to do anything.


Valencia scores in a recent game against Wolves (This image is the property of Getty Images)

Valencia chips in with goals and this is an aspect of his game that has improved greatly since he joined United from Wigan in the summer of 2009. If there is a criticism however, it is that he still does not score enough, but as long as he keeps creating them for others, Sir Alex Ferguson will live with this.

Valencia was singled out for his poor performance in last May’s Champions League final as Ferguson opted for his work rate over Nani’s trickery. In truth, Valencia did look out of depth, but it is unfair to single him out as United as a team were played off the park by a Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona.

His recent performances in the Premier League have put the likes of Arsenal, Bolton and Wolves to the sword and may see him make the PFA Team of the Season for the second time in his career. Then again, his shy and retiring nature means that he does not get the credit he deserves so probably not. Manchester United know how important he is though and have tied him to the club until the summer of 2015. Replacing the great Cristiano Ronaldo was always going to be impossible, but Valencia has done as good a job as anybody could have. If United do win a 20th league title, he will be able to look at his medal safe in the knowledge that it is fully deserved.

Name: Luis Antonio Valencia Mosquera

Place of Birth: Nueva Loja, Ecuador

Nationality: Ecuadorian

Date of Birth: 4th August 1985

Club: Manchester United

Previous Clubs: El Nacional, Villarreal, Recreativo de Huelva (loan), Wigan Athletic

Career League Appearances: 244

Career League Goals: 27

Total Career Appearances: 289

Total Career Goals: 33

International Caps: 51

International Goals: 6

Categories: Football
  1. April 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    @Miles: He initially went to Wigan on loan from Villarreal. The Spanish side signed him in 2005 but never gave him a chance really. He went to Recreativo for a season first, then Wigan. Wigan then eventually bought him for £5-6 million. I am not sure why he ended up at Wigan on loan, may be that there is a link with the agent, I’m not sure.

    @Rich: I think United are very lucky to have three wingers of the quality of Young, Nani and Valencia and they all offer something different. It all depends on who you are playing against but there is no doubt that Valencia is more direct and puts good balls in. That said, Nani and Young both offer more in the way of goals and are both much more two footed than Valencia is, so there are arguments in favour of all three. Nani was United’s best player last season and may play a vital role yet in the run in, but like you, I would like to see United continue with Valencia as it is working.

  2. Miles
    April 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Good article Nick. Do you know how Wigan managed to get him in the first place? Is there a relationship there with his agent?

  3. April 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    I actually prefer Valencia to Nani for the same reasons you have outlined in your article. When Nani plays wide right, i feel whoever is playing up front doesn’t know when the cross is coming in, whether it is Welbeck, Rooney or Chicharito they are often checking and back checking their runs into the box and quite often i’ve seen Rooney grow frustrated through games at Nani’s indecisiveness.

    Looking at Valencia you certainly get more productivity, going back to comments last week made by yourself about United needing to kill teams off, surely productivity will do that?

    The same thing can be said for Ashley Young, although a winger on the left side it’s his right foot he uses to cross/shoot, whilst Young is a good crosser of the ball he often checks back onto his favoured foot to cross the ball, whilst he’s not as frustrating as Nani it is no surprise that Valencia (who is the more direct of the three players) has the most assists.

    Now if Valencia keeps fit, i’d be tempted to play both him and Young as our wide players, whilst i do like Nani’s trickery and skill i’m always cursing at his play acting and i think our team plays better with the more direct Valencia.

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