Valencia’s dubious reward for scant achievement

June 23, 2014 Tags: Reads 22 comments
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There is so little to dislike about Antonio Valencia. Off the pitch there are few late nights, no entourage of note, and no hint of the now wildly popular biennial tantrum during contract negotiations. The Ecuadorian is a family man, settled in Manchester and enjoying life in England. In training he is dedicated and professional; the “quiet, shy boy,” Sir Alex Ferguson so admired. On it a player who remains a sound professional, earning the reputation as a player who rarely lets his team-mates down.

Yet, the three-year extension to Valencia’s contract announced this week is a curious reward for a player who has endured two traumatic seasons in a row. The player will handsomely profit despite so rarely excelling that his value to the team has dramatically waned – a strange statement from a club that has so loudly proclaimed its aspiration to return to domestic and continental glory.

Indeed, supporters may view United’s move as one so lacking in ambition that there is a genuine fear the club’s summer strategy will once again realise far less than the sum of Ed Woodward’s vacuous spin.

The negativity surrounding Valencia hasn’t always been so. The winger enjoyed a fine début season at Old Trafford – probably his best in red – when the Ecuadorian’s pace, strength and drive earned sound reviews in Cristiano Ronaldo’s wake. Valencia could never be adequate compensation for Ronaldo’s departure, of course, but it was a  positive squad addition nonetheless. Moreover, Valencia’s relationship with Wayne Rooney contributed much to the latter’s 34-goal season in 2009/10.

The winger suffered a broken leg against Rangers in the Champions League late in 2010, necessitating more than six months out of the game. Yet, the Nueva Loja-born midfielder enjoyed a fine end to the 2011/12 campaign as United built an eight point Premier League lead. From the depths of a hospital bed, Valencia once again became a central part of Ferguson’s team.

The Ecuadorian held less blame than others as the Scot’s side blew the points to hand Manchester City the title, although Valencia was dropped as the Reds capitulated at Eastlands in late April 2011.

Those glory days, such as they were, constitute a time now long forgotten.

Strange, perhaps, that United should be so effusive in announcing an extension that will keep Valencia at Old Trafford until 2017. The Ecuadorian holds a one-way option to extend the deal a further year, by which time  he will be 32 and more than £20 million to the good.

“I’m really pleased Antonio has signed a new contract,” said assistant manager Ryan Giggs. “His contribution to the team since he joined the club in 2009 has been fantastic.”

Two years of poor form belie Giggs’ comments as little more than puff, coming after another season of chronically mediocre performances from a player demonstrating little sign of reaching previous heights.

Valencia’s terrace nickname – “Turn Back Tony” – says much about a man now utterly bereft of confidence. Not only does the 28-year-old remain one-dimensional, but fans are no longer witness to the player’s willingness to take on his opponent. And on the rare occasion Valencia creates space his final ball is routinely misguided.

The player’s degradation is born out in the statistics too, with Valencia scoring just four and assisting a further five goals across 39 Premier and Champions League games last season. There were just 43 successful dribbles, 24 shots and just 28 successful crosses from 147 delivered over the campaign. He produced five goals and 14 assists in 2011/12, with just one and six a year later.

What the new deal says about United’s propensity to invest in wide areas this summer will also concern supporters. After all, United’s lack of quality on the wings has become an aphorism for those frustrated with the club’s transfer strategy.

After all, brilliant though Louis van Gaal may be, Nani is unlikely to become more consistent, nor Ashley Young develop talent beyond his limited purview. In Adnan Januzaj there remains hope in youth, but the 19-year-old’s considerable talent cannot save United alone.

And there is no little irony in the comparison with Nani. The Portuguese winger signed a five-year deal last summer only to start just nine games in all competitions last season. It was, in effect, £5 million in wages wasted on a player likely to move on this summer. Valencia needs to be a regularly starter simply to justify the new deal; a pedestal on which he has done little to rest.

United may well spend this summer, but with Rio Ferdinand and Nemnanja Vidić having slipped the nest – and central midfield suffering from years of chronic under-investment – there is no guarantee that it will be on width. Valencia’s new deal suggests anything but – the club’s hierarchy enacting a considerable gamble for a manager habitually wedded to attacking players of higher quality.

Yet, van Gaal has once again demonstrated his uncanny ability to establish both tactical superiority against almost any opposition and build a winning strategy this summer. Netherlands remains outsiders to win the World Cup in Brazil, but the veteran coach has unveiled a team greater than the sum of its parts. In it van Gaal has done so amid a late tactical switch to a 3-5-2 that maximises Dutch strengths and negates obvious weaknesses.

Few will be surprised if United’s new coach makes similarly bold choices at club level next season – and with it Valencia may find himself in unfamilar territory.

The player, meanwhile, protects a financial future that had begun to look less than sure under a contract that previously ran to 2015. Such has been the Ecuadorian’s long-running poor form that there would have been few top-line suitors had United chosen to sell this summer.

Little wonder the winger is delighted to sign and the platitudes are flowing fast.

“My time at Manchester United has been like a dream come true,” said the 28-year-old. “I am so happy to have signed a new deal and am looking forward to working with Louis van Gaal.”

That will not come until van Gaal’s side is dispatched from the World Cup. After victory over Chile on Monday that is likely to be at least a week later than Valencia’s return. Ecuador probably need to beat France this week to stay in the competition – one in which Valencia has rarely excelled.

Plus ça change, fans of a more cynical bent might add.


Benjamin Effiong - June 23, 2014 Reply

I HEAR this

Mike - June 23, 2014 Reply

Shocking decision to waste yet more money on this sub standard player. The only thing that could make things worse is United signing that utter hatchet man De Jong, an absolute disgrace to the game…

Plenty of time left but LVG will need to be a miracle worker with the shambles of a team and fool of a chief exec doing the transfer business

WarringtonRed - June 23, 2014 Reply

Can t agree. He’s a consistent performer and will benefit from Van Gaals appointment. Watching the World Cup there aren’t too many better that could withstand the rigours of the premier league. We’re this Ashley Young or Nani I’d be more concerned. I don’t think this is a reflection of Uniteds spending capability more a sign of what’s available in the market. He’s never let us down and can cover at full back. A good signing in my view.

mongoletsi - June 27, 2014 Reply

JayShon’s excellent data rant might make you reconsider your unwavering support 😉

Nik - June 23, 2014 Reply

The longer the players contract the higher the sell on fee; simples

Ed - June 23, 2014 Reply

Nik – not always true. If the selling club is keen to move a player on a long contract can mean the player is impossible to sell. This is especially true if the player demands the contract is paid off. See Nani for evidence.

Michael Leckey - June 24, 2014 Reply

couldn’t agree more… We now reward mediocrity. Can’t take anyone on. Can only leather it across the box. Horribly one footed.

Fusilli Jerry - June 24, 2014 Reply

The single-most depressing piece of news to come out of United since Moyes’s appointment. Woodward incapable of capturing the players we need to get in, Giggs incapable of objectively appraising the mates of his we need to get rid of. & anyone who thinks Valencia “can do a job” at right back probably thinks Anderson will “come good” this season too.
Not surprised Van Gaal doesn’t want to talk about United – with Woodward and Giggs running loose he probably doesn’t want to even think about them.

Denton Davey - June 24, 2014 Reply

Mike: “The only thing that could make things worse is United signing that utter hatchet man De Jong, an absolute disgrace to the game…”

I totally disagree with you. Maybe Nigel De Jong is not a FancyDan but, rather, he “gets stuck in” and wins the ball. You’re accepting a pantomime caricature of a very, very good player – I’d urge you to watch him more closely. After De Jong wins the ball he the requisite skill-set to move it along to the more creative team-mates – everything that YoungTom wasn’t.

My own view is that BOTH Nigel De Jong and Ron Vlaar would be very useful additions to UTD’s squad. Both have played in the EPL so that there would be no “teething problems”. Both have played for LVG so he knows what they can – and cannot – provide.

The “problem” with last year’s team – apart from Agent Moyes ! – was the lack of what we might call top-flight depth in central defence and the lack of a ball-winner in midfield and the mindless persistence in playing some variant of a 4-4-2 so that MC16 was over-run in midfield.
If you look honestly at UTD then it’s apparent that De Jong and Vlaar are the kind of experienced journeymen in positions that are thin in the current squad. Neither is a “Hollywood” transfer but both would be valuable.

Ed - June 24, 2014 Reply

Dont we have enough mediocre squad filler already?

Denton Davey - June 24, 2014 Reply

Nope. What UTD have had is a very unbalanced squad – “thin” in midfield with a series of sick-notes in central defence. Add to that, serious confusion with the core of really-skilled players – RVP and Rooney and Adnan and Mata and KagawaBunga.

From what I’ve seen of LVG’s management, he is a guy who has a clear plan and understands that touch-line hugging wingers and just two central midfielders just won’t-cut-it the way opponents line up.

Look at the Dutch team – two tremendous players, playing at their peak plus a lot of “mediocre squad filler”. The key to the success has been that LVG has them playing-on-the-same-page. When you set aside Robben/RVP, then it’s pretty clear to me that Vlaar is the “captain” of the defence and De Jong marshals the midfield. These are guys who know their roles and, obviously, have LVG’s confidence.

The problems at UTD are deep in that the central defensive pair got old and their replacements just can’t seem to stay healthy and live up to their advance billings; add to that the serial under-investment in midfield (and an aging MC16). SAF squeezed every last drop from the team’s core – Rio/Vidic/Carrick – but the problems were exposed last year. Agent Moyes was no genius but he was brutally-honest enough to point out that he had been left with a poisoned chalice.

Moyes’ incompetence notwithstanding, those problems remain and if UTD are going to compete again next year then some canny “mediocre squad filler” might be a much more reasonable route to that goal than a bunch of “Hollywood transfers” who may – or may not – hit the ground running.

What’s needed to reinvigorate UTD is, first, a short-term fix-it and, then, second, some serious medium-term planning (and a prayer that Evans/Jones/Da Silva can stay healthy enough to grow into the players that they have promised to be).

Ed - June 24, 2014 Reply

I’d say United have at best three ‘world class’ or verge of players: Mata, de Gea, van Persie. The rest over-the-hill, not good enough, as yet unproven. But it’s a very large squad. There are very few teams in history that win anything with so much mediocrity. Holland haven’t won anything yet.

As for the specific players – de Jong was average, no better, at City. Vlaar marshaled a defence that conceded 61 leagues goals last season. No thanks.

Denton Davey - June 25, 2014

What about TheWayneBoy ?

I never said that De Jong was marvellous – but he’s better than any other midfield option currently on the books.

Vlaar was playing with completely useless partners in defence. Why is he so much better with TheNetherlands ? Sometimes it’s worthwhile to look outside mere statistics – LVG obviously has when he named Vlaar to be the centrepiece of his defence and keeps-the-faith with De Jong despite his “pantomime villainies”.

Unless you believe that LVG is going to get four/five players @ 30million apiece then the new manager has to figure out how to mix-and-match while doing so within a budget. You might not like that approach but it would seem that these were the parameters that LVG was given – an accepted.

Stated another way – you could say that LVG has shown that he can make chicken soup out of chicken shit.

Either way, next year’s incarnation of UTD will be a very different beast from the dross that AgentMoyes’ team produced on a regular basis.

Ed - June 25, 2014

Rooney’s done. Pace has gone. No zip left. That ability to beat a man and get through a game without visibly deteriorating has evaporated. His best was four years ago. I predict a sharp decline in his performances in the years to come. The only thing that’ll save him is slowly moving backwards – midfield. He might not even be very good at that.

Tom Parkinson - June 24, 2014 Reply

Ron Vlaar? No thanks. Ludicrous statement there Denton Davey. Almost as ludicrous as De Jong. Both completely average players that Utd don’t need. Utd need ball players to get the ball quickly and accurately in to our forward and wide players whilst in dangerous positions, De Jong certainly isn’t in that category.

Denton Davey - June 25, 2014 Reply

Ludicrous is the idea that Tony Kroos or CR7 want to live in Manchester – as opposed to Madrid.

By the way, watch De Jong closely – he’s much, much better than he’s often described by those who only see a pantomime villain. He’s not great – I never said that – but the guy is tough and plenty-skilled for a team in need of an infusion of veteran journeyman talent to make up for years of neglect of its midfield.

Like I wrote earlier, UTD have short-term and a medium-term problems; De Jong and Vlaar would help LVG address the glaring short-term problems so that the team can be competitive next year. Neither is likely to be a medium-term solution.

Sometimes you have to cut your cloth to fit the suit – or whatever that little gem is !

Subterranean Steve - June 25, 2014 Reply

Having watched the weakest Australian side ever to get to the World Cup finals, come within a whisker of embarrassing the Dutch masters, I’ll reserve my judgement as to whether LVG really is the Messiah or just a reformed naughty boy.

Of course, if he were to bring Robben with him, then I might be open to persuasion.

Denton Davey - June 25, 2014 Reply

Australia got gifted a penalty and went behind when Cahill scored a wonder-goal. That said, it was interesting to see that TheNetherlands did not fold like a cheap suit-case – i.e., Spain.

Twat - June 25, 2014 Reply

Have to assume – and hope – that he’s been re-signed as a backup right back and maybe first choice wing back. In the latter role he could be ideal as he’d get an extra defender behind him for cover if Van Gaal wants a 3-5-2 option.

Obviously if he’s been signed for a more attacking winger role we are in trouble.

fanuel chikomo - June 25, 2014 Reply

hating valencia doesnt change anything…u are all taliing abt valenciabyet you have english deadwood like cleverly…u ar biasd

SalfordTom - June 26, 2014 Reply

Controls the ball; can cross; gets back to tackle; passes well. How many of the squad can do any of those things let alone all of them. The vitriol re Valencia reminds me of the onslaught on Giggs nine or ten years ago. That was never justified and proved to be embarrassingly wrong. Tony isn’t Giggs but he is certainly a more valuable asset to the team than 5 or 6 players we will have to field week after week this next season.

Ed - June 26, 2014 Reply

Come on, this isn’t vitriol. Are you seriously trying to argue he’s played well recently. Or in the last two years? As for crossing – 19% finds its target.

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