Posted on Friday, 26th February 2010 by
June 2009. Manchester United supporters are recovering from the ‘shock’ of star player Cristiano Ronaldo transferring to Real Madrid for a record £80milllion sum. Message boards and radio phone ins are contaminated with prospective fantasy wish lists, seemingly no player off limits given such a substantial wedge to blow. Few if any of those lists contained the name of an Ecuadorian winger then plying his trade for Wigan Athletic.
Luis Antonio Valencia Mosquera had long been linked with the club in the press, but given such rumours are ten a penny with United, and reports that any deal would involve an apparently incredulous fee, there was no guarantee of further interest. When United confirmed the deal, for an undisclosed fee thought to be around the £16million mark, initial reaction was somewhat underwhelming. Even more so by the start of the new season, by which time it was apparent the Valencia signing would be the clubs one major foray in the transfer market that summer.
Inevitably, Valencia was perhaps unfairly – and yet understandably in the circumstances – compared heavily, and unfavorably, to the departing Ronaldo. How could a relative unknown who’d scored seven goals in three seasons at Wigan possibly replace the current world player of the year, integral to United’s hat trick of domestic titles, and consecutive Champions League final appearances? Never mind club top scorer the three previous seasons. A daunting proposition indeed.
And yet in retrospect, the signing looks inspired. Following a mid season rest, Valencia has come back fresher and sharper than ever, and contributed tellingly to United’s best form of the campaign. With ten league games to go, United are already only two strikes off their total goal tally for the previous season, with Valencia having contributed seven directly, and played many a role in providing others. His magnificent first time cross on a plate to Rooney for United?s opener against West Ham recently contributed arguably to one of the best goals in the league this season.
Personally speaking, the player Valencia most reminds me of is Andrei Kanchelskis. A very direct approach, searing pace, unusual strength for a winger, never scared to run at a player, and a propensity for running to the byline to put a ball across… all traits of the Ukrainian, and mirrored in United’s current first choice right winger. The defender may anticipate what the player is going to do, but it’s one thing knowing, and another stopping it. That burst of initial acceleration makes the difference between a good winger, and a top class winger. It’s difficult to point to a better winger in the game currently.
Of course there are flaws in his game – most obviously his relative one footedness, not that that ever stopped players like Puskas from becoming all time greats – and it’s still early days in his United career yet. But for a 24 year old making a significant step up in his career, to a club with such constant pressure and expectancy, his start has been as impressive as could possibly have been hoped for. Antonio is on the verge of securing the first silverware of his English career with Sundays cup final against Aston Villa on the horizon. All signs suggest it probably won’t be his last.
This post come courtesy of our contributor B Cantona