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Franco Baresi once said of the legendary Diego Maradona “We had to be very well organised; put pressure on him, doubling up, tripling up even to limit his talents. Because if it was one-on-one, you’d lose.”. Now, I’m not comparing the brilliance of Antonio Valencia to the unquantifiable genius of the Argentinean World Cup winner – but in recent months, the surging Ecuadorian is a sorry sight for any retreating left back who simply can’t deal with the pace of United’s number 25. His signing in 2009 may have not be met with the same hysteria that greeted Ronaldo’s arrival at the Bernabeu, however his qualities have been there for all to see since signing from Wigan for £18million. Here we look at Valencia’s season so far and what he brings to United’s play.
Despite breaking his leg against Rangers early in his second full season at the club, Valencia went on to play a significant role in United’s nineteenth title triumph – dislodging the excellent Nani, on the right handside, towards the end of the campaign.
The Ecuadorian featured in his first European Cup final at Wembley, where United were soundly beaten 3-1 by the excellent Barcelona. Valencia had a poor game, however it was mainly down to Barcelona’s movement that pulled United players all out of position, rather than him simply ‘not being up for it’. Valencia is United’s leading assist maker in the Premier League with 11 in total, notching up another two against Wolves on Sunday.
Comparison with Andrei Kanchelskis
Andrei Kanchelskis was one of my all time favourite players. He would roast opposing full backs through sheer pace as oppose to the trickery many reds were accustomed to in recent years through Ronaldo and Nani. Kanchelskis scored some amazing solo goals, with the goal in the 94 semi-final replay against Oldham at Maine Road as his stand out goal for me. Valencia will most often than not attempt to go on the outside of the left back, where as Nani will start out in a wide area and cut in side onto his other foot. Kanchelskis was the same as Valencia, bursting down the right hand side and delivering a cross to be headed home or getting to the byline to tap a low pass across the six yard box.
Despite his swift exit, I think many reds remember the Ukrainian’s stint at Old Trafford as being very successful indeed. His hattrick in the 5-0 drumming of Manchester City on cold November evening will always remain as our fondest memory, but he was a proper old school winger – much like Valencia. They both give United great width with blistering pace – two key components to launch a counter attack. Those early years in the 90s when Andrei was at the club were magical and he was a big part of it all the success, especially in the double winning season.
It was disappointing how it all ended in the summer of 1995, with some crazy stories branded around as to why he had to go. I assume that Hughes was always going to be surplus to requirements, with the purchase of Andy Cole the January previous and the emerging Paul Scholes – who at the time was more of a frontman than a midfield visionary that he later developed into. Paul Ince was excellent in the 94/95 season, but as we’ve found out from Fergie over the years – if someone believes they’re bigger than the club, then out they go. The lure of the lira from Internazionale was no doubt a very tempting factor to one of England’s better midfielders at the time – so it worked out well for both parties, with Roy Keane stepping out of the shadows of Robson (who left the season previous) and the self proclaimed ‘Guvnor’. Kanchelskis left for Goodison and then got injured against United, following a challenge with Lee Sharpe if I remember rightly, and never recaptured that magical form he found at Old Trafford.
Valencia could be even better
In football its very common for players to be ‘flavour of the month’. For instance, it was quite laughable to assume that United didn’t need Wesley Sneijder, you know World Cup finalist, European Cup winner and one of Europe’s finest playmakers – as we had a ready made youngster waiting to step up in Tom Cleverley – a ‘compliment’ that a youngster breaking through doesn’t need. There is a lot of fuss over Valencia of late based upon his excellent performances – however, I have always been a fan of the former Wigan man. Looking back at old blog posts, the 2010 League Cup final saw an excellent performance from Valencia, where I first compared him to the Ukrainian and touched upon his versatility.
In a number of matches, Sir Alex has deployed Valencia as a right back – with Nani playing in front of him. No doubt this is an attacking tactic when United are chasing a match, but it is credit to Valencia that is gets his head down and does exactly what the manager asks of him. First priority is to defend, but modern day full backs are required to get up and down so much more, especially with wingers drifting inside as Nani does (someone must provide the width). His pace and movement can also help to prevent opposing sides using their fullbacks as an attacking outlet. For example, Valencia didn’t give Cole a kick in the 2009/10 clash at Stamford Bridge, pressing him so far back Cole couldn’t get out of his half. Again, some players might not be up for the task of having to focus on ‘stopping someone else playing’ rather than playing yourself – but not Valencia, he plays for the team.
‘Unplayable’ is a strong word in football. It means your opponent doesn’t stand a chance. With Maradona’s technical, physical and mental strength – he was ‘unplayable’ for many years and as Baresi said, “you would lose in a one on one”. Valencia is obviously nowhere near the class of Argentina’s legendary number ten, however when he is up against a left back, any left back, I now fully expect him to leave him for dead on the outside. Valencia has been one of Ferguson’s most astute signings. Ridiculous comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo were left for people outside the club to mention, anyone that has seen Valencia play in the past two and a half years will know the quality the lad has.