Footballers naturally hit their prime when they are in their mid-twenties to early-thirties and beyond, depending on which position they play in, which is why it is extremely troubling to watch 27-year-old Antonio Valencia spiral into decline.

A year ago, people were painting a very different picture of the Ecuadorian winger. He was terrorising defenders down the right flank across England as Manchester United were making their final charge towards the Premier League title - which they eventually missed out on because of their inferior goal difference.

He used to be the role model of the traditional touchline winger. He had pace, power, the ability to dribble and knock the ball past opponents and, most importantly, the knack of supplying an endless and steady stream of quality crosses into the box for the strikers to poach on.

Fast-forward to the present day and he seems to have lost almost all of those qualities, perhaps only clinging on to his superior physical stature which grants him great strength at the very least.

With only two years left on his current contract, he has not been doing well enough to convince the United boss that he is deserving on a contract extension. His performances in his past few matches have been merely average, or below that, and if he continues like this, he may very well find himself on the transfer list as United look to overhaul their squad in a major summer clear-out.

Valencia was one of United's most consistent players last season and was a key figure as he had the most assists in the Premier League last season. His current statistics show that he is now a shadow of the man he once was.

Perhaps it has been injuries that have hindered his performances. Sometimes players get mentally affected after going through a major injury; there is always a fear that it might happen again which subsequently hits their confidence.

The weight of wearing the legendary No. 7 shirt could also be another pitfall for the Red Devils' winger. Shouldering the same number donned by predecessors such as Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo might have affected the player psychologically.

His lack of games might also be a factor for his poor form. Without the confidence from the club or his manager, the player's confidence will no doubt be affected. Maybe Valencia needs to start believing in himself again to rediscover the player that he once was.

If given a chance to stake his claim in the squad in the final games of the season, he should seize it and look to rebuild his image in order to shed his current shadow.

It is not an option for the wide man as, if he fails to prove his worth now, the chances are he will not be given the same opportunity to do so come next season.

There is only so much the manager will be able to tolerate - and mediocrity is not an option at the Theatre of Dreams.


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