Manchester United confirmed the finalisation of their first January signing yesterday, and in terms of pedigree the arriving player sits in the highest echelon of European football.
Victor Valdes was not only an individual who managed to avoid the speculation trap that the likes of Mats Hummels and Edinson Cavani have found themselves mired in, slipping under the radar to become Louis van Gaal’s next marquee introduction, but also one who has been there and bought the t-shirt when it comes to the biggest stages.
Unfortunately however most of those t-shirts were acquired whilst he was surrounded by the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique in their pomp, all the while being made to dance to the tune of Pep Guardiola’s magic pipe. In short he is a character who has the brilliance of others to thank for the majority of trophies - and there are many - in his cabinet.
The question marks over Valdes’s credentials between the sticks at the Nou Camp were present from the very first moment he became a regular in the Barcelona lineup and though there’s no doubting he played his part and to a degree earned his keep, the shadow of criticism, be it from Spanish media outlets or respected pundits, was never too far away.
One might deduce that he was a victim of the breathtaking ability the majority of his outfield players could boast. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to claim that the side Guardiola assembled during his ascension to European dominance was the best one ever seen. If it was then Valdes was the one weak chink in their armour.
The Catalan giants were never going to get rid of the homegrown talent who had progressed through the La Masia ranks; partly because he held such a favourable status within the first-team squad - to get rid of him would have caused unrest - and partly because they didn’t need to.
The Nou Camp fortress
The tiki-taka style Guardiola’s Barca favoured allowed his side to boast so much possession that opposition sides rarely got near their goal, and even when they did they were so tired from ball hunting and still had to navigate a defence that included both Pique and the legendary Carles Puyol, that they rarely posed a significant threat.
Of course it looks like this article has become a witch-hunt for Valdes, but there is a point to it, I assure you. The 32-year-old is possessive of excellent shot-stopping skills, and even my vision isn’t so clouded as to suggest that he did nothing to deserve his berth at Barcelona for a decade.
My gripe is that he is an incomplete No.1, one not nearly so confident and assured when it comes to decision-making as the likes of Manuel Neuer, Thibaut Courtois and David de Gea.
De Gea issues
There we have it, it’s out. That D word. De Gea. The United ‘keeper has emphatically silenced his many critics, who were laughing heartily when he was first shipped to English shores by Sir Alex Ferguson, over the past two years, and this season he looks well on course to establish himself as one of the campaign’s key performers during Van Gaal’s maiden term.
With that in mind it’s slightly strange that the Dutchman has decided to take Valdes into his fold, regardless of how much better he is than Anders Lindegaard. The fact that Van Gaal now has two players of worldwide repute on his books, particularly when recent speculation is taken into account, has paved the way for mass hysteria revolving around one theory; one of them is being lined up for an imminent exit.
Since Valdes only put pen to paper on his Old Trafford contract around 24 hours ago we’re willing to hedge our bets that it won’t be him linked with a move away anytime soon. That leaves De Gea, who coincidentally finds himself flavour of the year when it comes to Real Madrid’s transfer plans.
Whether it’s thanks to rumours that Iker Casillas is set to take his leave of the Santiago Bernabeu this summer, the idea that De Gea would be keen on a glorious homecoming to be coronated the King of Spanish goalkeeping, or simply the fact that the Red Devils star is one of the most in-form players on the planet; the general consensus is that Real want him, and Real often get what they want.
A product of such speculation has naturally given birth to the opinion that Van Gaal sees Valdes as an eventual replacement for De Gea, not just an overqualified No.2. It would make sense from that perspective, given that Valdes, being a free agent, was sure to have been snapped up by another side had the United boss not moved when he did.
If this is the case then fans of the former Premier League champions have every right to be concerned for the day when De Gea does pack his bags. Finally we come full circle; Valdes is not good enough for the current United team.
Before the ‘he’s crazy’ bells start to chime allow me to elaborate; it’s not that United are too good for him, more that the defence and style of play don’t accommodate for anything less than a brilliant No.1, world-class in fact.
De Gea has become that ‘keeper of undeniable quality, and without him it’s fair to say that United would be a good bit lower down in the table than they are currently. His departure wouldn’t quite be comparable to when Cristiano Ronaldo left the club but it would be essential to replace him with an individual of similar ability.
Valdes has a reputation, which as already discussed is a by-product of his glory years behind a Barcelona side that had next to no flaws. I may miss my mark and Van Gaal might be planning for life without De Gea away from the public eye, but he might live to regret hedging his bets on Valdes if the Spaniard, as I expect, struggles to excel when he’s forced to be brilliant in all aspects of his game.