Antonio Valencia is enjoying his time at Manchester United after stepping out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow, says the £15 million summer purchase from Wigan Athletic. The Ecuadorian, who is United’s third top scorer with seven goals, has featured in 32 games this season in a highly promising first campaign at the club.
The unassuming 24-year-old could be forgiven for freezing in the wake of the Portuguese winger’s £80 million transfer to Real Madrid. After all, Ronaldo’s 91 goals in the past three years have contributed heavily to the club’s triumvirate of Premier League titles and two successive Champions League finals.
But the Lago Agrio-born winger has proven an astute buy on the right hand side of United’s midfield, slotting neatly into the side from the off.
“I thought I would be used sparingly at first and then more as I settled in at the club, but as a footballer you train hard so that you’re always prepared to play,” said Valencia, who missed out to the resurgent Nani for a place in United’s starting formation against Arsenal last weekend.
“Then it’s down to the manager to make the decisions, and he has given me lots of opportunities. I’m really enjoying my United career so far, and this is just the start.”
Many – including Rant – suspected that United would fall short of goals this season, with Valencia’s record of just seven strikes in two seasons with Wigan unpromising. But encouraged to get into more scoring positions, the wide man’s pace and shooting ability has proven invaluable to Ferguson’s men.
“I’m getting into the box more than ever before in my career,” said the Ecuadorian international, who has more than 40 caps for his homeland.
“I’m encouraged to get forward and there are a lot of balls coming in from the left side, so I’ve been able to get to the far post and get on the end of a few crosses.”
Should Valencia make double figures this season it will represent a productive return-on-investment for a player who cost less than a fifth of Ronaldo’s huge transfer fee. Not bad for a player who boldly turned down a move the Spanish capital a year ago.
“Cristiano was an unbelievable player. It was inevitable at some point he was going to leave. We have adjusted to it. Antonio has done well and his development has been good,” said Ferguson earlier this season.
“The good thing about him is that he is as tough as boots and has great stamina and speed. He’s a quiet and shy boy and I don’t think with his personality he would be interested in trying to outmatch Cristiano. He has been unaffected by the position he is playing in.
“We think he is important to us the way we play. We like to have width in the team and he is doing that very well.”
The player’s speed and direct running has impressed both fans and manager this season, although he has found himself on the bench in recent matches.
Indeed, Valencia’s greatest challenge now is not the shadow of Cristiano but competition from Nani, whose mesmerising form on the right-wing against both Manchester City and Arsenal in the past week has taken the fans by surprise.
With Nani creating two goals for the club on Sunday, Valencia may need to warm the bench for a while longer. Yet, there will be no tantrums from the hard-working former Villarreal player.