Football

Manchester United star can rediscover his confidence

Valencia has endured a difficult season at Old Trafford (©GettyImages)
Valencia has endured a difficult season at Old Trafford (©GettyImages).

Do you also work for one of those 'corporations'? Oh, a multinational, you say? Great, then you would be familiar with this dreadful procedure called the year-end appraisal.

Yes, that time of year when your employers get to decide whether or not all those hours you logged in making ridiculous sums of money for them merit a marginal increment in your paycheque. I know, it's awful, but we can't escape it.

And neither can the modern day footballer.

The season is coming to a close, and it's time for managers to decide which of their superstars justified their exorbitant wages on the pitch. But over there, the stakes are a lot higher. An under-performing footballer does not only risk losing out on a better contract. He risks getting moved off to a lesser club. One which does not, God forbid, even play in Europe. One that has been cursed with mid-table mediocrity since time immemorial, or is even languishing at the bottom of the table.

Oh, that is quite a frightening prospect. One that many players face at the end of every campaign. One that Antonio Valencia is probably fearing at the moment. 

He's not had the best season of his life, let it be clear there's no question about that. I'll be soft on him and say he's been struggling for form, because there have been several Manchester United supporters who've already made up their minds of the necessity of his departure this summer.

For some of them, he does not even deserve to don the fabled No. 7 shirt. He's been "dreadful" and, at times, "embarassing". All because his uni-dimensional kick-the-ball-past-the-full-back-and-punt-a-cross-in gameplay had been "found out".

And that's where I beg to differ.

You see, I find it hard to fathom that it takes three seasons for a player to be found out. It had become abundantly clear from his first few performances in a red shirt that Cristiano Ronaldo's replacement was poles apart in from his predecessor in terms of style of play. In fact, his for United against Boca Juniors in the Audi Cup was an apt curtain raiser for what was to follow. He wasn't going to be a player full of surprises. In fact, the only surprise was that he was so effective.

The right winger spent the next three seasons running up and down the touchline, beating players through sheer pace and strength, and whipping crosses in for Rooney and co. to score.

Along the way, he embarrassed some of the best left-backs in the world. His pace and endurance also made him an asset in closing down opposition players in possession of the ball. You could say he was the archetypical player of Sir Alex Ferguson's effectiveness-over-excitement style that dominated the latter years of his reign, being so undeniably brilliant at doing the most basic things right.

I knew it, you knew it, and any manager/player studying his videos in preparation for a match against United would have known it. You'd expect them to be ready, but Valencia would walk out on to the pitch and prove you wrong. Again and again.

So, could it be that his dip (or plummet, if you'd rather) in form not have anything to do with him being exposed as a 'one trick pony'?

The answer to that, I believe, lies at half-time of United's clash with Arsenal on November 3. In the 45 minutes preceding the break, Valencia had summarily gone about giving the shellacking of a life time to the Gunners' left-back Andre Santos, (a player who consequently drifted so briskly out of the public eye that I've actually had to search "Arsenal left-back" on the net to recall his name). When the referee blew his whistle to commence the second half, more of the same was expected, but we were disappointed.

Santos came out more composed and with an adequate answer to Valencia's speed and power. The match finished, United claimed the three points and everybody associated with the club went back home in a jolly good mood. Except maybe, Antonio Valencia.

Since that day, he seemed to have harboured doubts. Doubts that manifested in his unsure control of the ball, his frantic and wayward crosses, and his timid, almost zero-speed dribbles against opposition left-backs. The energetic winger was replaced by a visibly under-confident shadow of his former self. On occasions, he could make viewers wonder if Bebe could have made better use of the ball. 

But what brings about this erosion of confidence? Many players go through phases of low self-belief, but for such a sustained period and of such severity? What is it about Valencia that makes this stage in his career so much worse than it is for others?

Perhaps it has got something to do with his origins. Valencia comes from a humble background, helping his mother sell drinks outside Lago Agrio's Carlos Vernaza stadium in north-east Ecuador as a young boy, while also trawling through town rummaging for discarded bottles that his father could sell in the capital city of Quito.

He used to play football barefoot in a dusty place near his home, a place where he was spotted as an 11-year-old by scout Pedro "Papi" Perlaza. He might have shown precocious talent, but Ecuador is no Brazil. Very few fairytale football stories begin in that nation, and Antonio might have been warned not to let this imagination get the better of him, from a young age. 

He eventually made it to Wigan though, via El Nacional, Villarreal and Recreativo Huelva in Spain. Even so, when in January 2009, the Manchester United manager made his interest clear to the winger, being characteristically down-to-earth, he "did not believe him".

Real Madrid's curiosity was also piqued around the same time, but he was "happy" at his club. But come the summer and the sale of Ronaldo to Real Madrid, Valencia swapped the blue and white stripes of Wigan for the red and white of United. And you get the feeling he sometimes pinches himself just to make sure it's true.

Given the pressure of playing for United, it's quite possible that the Ecuadorian has finally been overwhelmed. And it's palpable in his performances to anyone with a keen eye. He may also be suffering from lack of fitness, though he's had not lengthy lay-off of late.

He's facing a crisis of confidence, but it's not something he can't overcome. It's not something continuously berating him on online forums can solve. And it's certainly not a reason to sell him after a bad season.

In my opinion, Valencia has not been "found out". But if he is to regain the form of 2011/12, when he claimed Manchester United's Player of the Season award, he has to share it.

 

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Topics:
Luis Antonio Valencia
Antonio Valencia
Football
Manchester United

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