Tag Antonio Valencia

Tag Antonio Valencia

Valencia emerges from Ronaldo’s shadow

October 22, 2009 Tags: Opinion 2 comments

When Antonio Valencia stepped on the Old Trafford pitch for the first time since his £16 million move across Lancashire from Wigan Athletic the spotlight shone firmly on the Ecuadorian. Not without good reason, as Cristiano Ronaldo’s heir-apparent, the mild-mannered 23-year-old held the weight of expectations on his shoulders.

The hopes and fears of United supporters, 13 games into Valencia’s Old Trafford career, now closer to being realised.

Valencia’s match-winning performance in Manchester United’s 1-0 victory in Moscow Wednesday night marked another progressive step in the Lago Agrio-born winger’s career. Hugging the touchline, with the confidence to pose a constant threat, the wide man scored for the second time in as many games for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

Valencia’s display against Moscow was a strong follow-up to a positive run-out for United in the Premier League Saturday last. Valencia’s old-fashioned display, scoring United’s second – ultimately winning – goal against Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford, may have been a turning point in the former Villarreal player’s career in Manchester.

But it was an uncertain start for the former Wigan player, with Valencia starting as many games on the bench as he did in the team during United’s first 10 games this season. Indeed, the Ecuadorian’s performance against Arsenal so lacked in conviction that Ferguson hauled the winger off and supporters were right to hold doubts about Valencia’s ability compensate adequately for the loss of Ronaldo.

Indifferent performances at the start of an Old Trafford career are hardly a problem unique to Valencia. The question for many players is whether they are able to overcome the increased weight of expectation that comes with playing for the world’s best-supported club.

Stage-fright says Nemanja Vidic, a man whom endured an equally shaky start to his United career after an £7.8 million move from CSKA Moscow in January 2007.

“At the beginning of the season, Antonio had some difficulties because he was bought to replace Cristiano Ronaldo,” said Vidic.

“The media paid special attention and were watching his every move, and the pressure paralysed him a little. He is a real artist, gradually gaining confidence and playing better and better with each match. Scoring will help him even more.”

Valencia’s record at Wigan and on the international stage – he has 40 caps for his native Ecuador – suggests a man big on talent but little in end-product in front of goal. The winger scored just seven in 89 appearances for Wigan and only a marginally more impressive return for the national team.

But if lack of goals is a concern then perhaps supporters are concentrating on the wrong aspects of Valencia’s game, says club captain Gary Neville. Where Ronaldo came to dominate both United’s goalscoring and tactical deployment, Valencia offers an altogether different proposition. A throwback to a day when wingers, were wingers, Neville argues.

“Antonio Valencia caused them [Moscow] problems after the break. He is strong and quick and an old fashioned winger who puts crosses in and is a constant threat to defenders,” said Neville after the victory over CSKA in Moscow.

Performances such as those delivered in the past week are likely to win round supporters grown used to high quality from the right in recent years. But unlike Ronaldo – and David Beckham previously – Valencia lacks the drive for stardom and celebrity. And while the Ecuadorian is less likely to seek fame off the pitch, the distinct lack of entourage surrounding Ferguson’s most-expensive summer signing comes as a welcome change.

“I think everyone is very pleased with what Antonio has done,” said defender Rio Ferdinand.

“He’s a really humble and quiet lad. He comes in, does his work and goes home. He is from the Paul Scholes mould of embracing hype and attention but he’s the most confident guy on the football field and he’s been very impressive since he arrived.”

“He’s playing very well and I’m sure he will keep improving and keep scoring goals.”

Ultimately it is Ferguson that will make or break Valencia, who won the fans’ voted FIFA World Cup 2006 Best Young Player. Naturally, the Scot is fully supportive of his new winger; perhaps even relieved to have a wide player dedicated to his art and not endorsements.

“Valencia has been a plus point for the last few weeks. He’s emerging very well, settling into the club, and his confidence is getting stronger,” said Ferguson.

“He has tremendous assets for a wide player, but the assets he didn’t show at Wigan were his goals, where he would maybe only get three or four a season.

“This was his challenge when he signed for us. Two in two games will help him.”

A winner at Anfield this weekend would be a special kind of hat-trick.

First look at Valencia

July 29, 2009 Tags: Opinion 3 comments

Antonio Valencia scored and put in a lively performance during his first outing for Manchester United since an £18 million move from Wigan Athletic this summer. The Ecuadorian winger, who was left out of the Asian tour to concentrate on fitness work back in Manchester, was a constant threat from the right wing in United’s 2-1 victory over Boca Juniors in Munich this evening.

While it’s early days in the winger’s United career, Valencia’s performance is a major bonus for Sir Alex Ferguson after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo this summer. Looking every bit the old fashioned winger, Valencia hugged the touchline and was a constant menace to his opposing full-back, before being substituted with about 25 minutes remaining.

“I think he will figure in many games,” Sir Alex said after the game. “It was his first game. For his first game, we are very satisfied. He is a good athlete, has good power and running ability, as we saw today with the way he created a good goal. Maybe it was a mistake by the goalkeeper, but he created the opportunity and opened up spaces for himself.”

The questions now are, can Valencia perform against better opposition than Boca and can he maintain a scoring rate better than the 1 in 10 he managed at Wigan?

“We know that when you look at his record at Wigan it is not good in terms of goals,” Ferguson told reporters after the match. “He knows that too, but when we assess the individual parts of his game, his athleticism and the power in his shooting, then why should he not score more goals?

The wide-man’s strike today came after beating two defenders and shooting low into the corner, although Boca ‘keeper Abbondanzieri will be disappointed with effort. It could be a sign of good things to come.

United’s 4-4-2 system in pre-season is almost certainly a signal towards a more compact formation this season. With Valencia deployed wide-right and Ji-Sung Park on the opposite flank, United played in a slightly more rigid fashion than with Ronaldo in the team. But it was always going to be impossible to replace the Portuguese maestro’s ability to be two players in one.

Ferguson’s move to deploy two players through the middle makes sense given the strikers at his disposal this season. All four of his principal forwards prefer to work in central areas, with Rooney consistent in his summer demand to move back to his old role.

Recognising that Dimitar Berbatov was largely forced into an unfamiliar role last season, Ferguson told The Telegraph today he “expected the form that we have seen from Berbatov so far in pre-season. Last season was a strange one for him and maybe we didn’t use him in the right way.

“But we know exactly how to use him now, further up the pitch, playing as a centre-forward. I really think Berbatov will have a terrific season for us.”

If that really is the case then United’s pre-season programme is as much about finding out which pairs work best together, as it is about fitness. With Rooney likely to fulfill his England role as a shadow striker to Berbatov’s front-man, does that relegate Michael Owen and Federico Macheda to a supporting role? It may do, but Owen’s goalscoring form and the continued progression of Macheda are very positive signs for the season ahead.

The worry for United is in central midfield and the left wing. Can one of Nani, Tosic or Park make the left his own in pre-season? Unless an unlikely move for Valencia’s David Silva materialises, then somebody will have to. In central midfield both Anderson – who scored a brilliant free-kick today – and Michael Carrick can expect to start the season. But Darren Fletcher will also have an important role to play by providing solidity in the centre of the park, especially away from home. But United still lacks a true defensive midfielder. Owen Hargreaves cannot return fast enough.

Valencia signs to kick off summer rebuilding

July 1, 2009 Tags: Opinion 1 comment

Sir Alex Ferguson made his first signing of what is expected to be a busy summer in the transfer market, when Wigan Athletic’s right winger Luis Antonio Valencia Mosquera signed in a £16 million deal yesterday. The Ecuadorian, nicknamed Toño Maravilla, has signed a four year contract on wages rumoured to be around £70,000 per week.

“Antonio is a player we have admired for some time now, having spent the last two years in the Premier League with Wigan,” Ferguson said.

“I am sure his pace and ability will make a significant contribution to the team.”

The tricky wide man, 23, is expected to take Cristiano Ronaldo’s number seven shirt. Despite being highly regarded at Old Trafford, he is unlikely to contribute to the scoresheet as frequently as the Portuguese player, with just seven goals in 89 appearances for Wigan.

“I have enjoyed my time at Wigan, but I am thrilled to have the chance to challenge for the biggest honours in club football here,” said Valencia, who has 34 caps and four goals for Ecuador.

“Playing in front of 76,000 fans alongside players like Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs will be an amazing experience. I can’t wait to get started.”

“I hope the fans at Wigan can understand that I am an ambitious guy and a chance like this might never come again for me.”

“I am happy that the club has benefited from the move financially because I owe them such a lot. I have had a great time here.”

United jet off to Asia for their pre-season tour in less than three weeks time and Ferguson will be relieved to have conducted his first piece of close-season business.

Meanwhile, reports suggest that United are close to sealing a deal for Olympique Lyonnais forward Karim Benzema for a fee of £38 million. While fans will take the speculation with a pinch of salt until a deal is sealed, there certainly appears to be some movement in United’s summer transfer plans.

Wigan
Appearances 89 (6 as sub)
Goals 7
Yellow 15
Red 0
Ecuador
Appearances 34 (1 as sub)
Goals 3
Yellow 6
Red 0

Has United hit roadblock in dash to splash Ronaldo cash?

June 23, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion 4 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson may have anything up to £125 million to spend this summer but it could be cash that burns a painful hole in his pocket by the time the transfer window closes on September 1. Top targets – depending on which tabloid you believe – who reportedly include Wigan Athletic’s Antonio Valencia, Olympique Lyonnais’ Karim Benzema, Valencia’s David Villa and David Silva, together with Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o, and the Brazilian teenager Douglas Costa may all end up elsewhere as Fergie remains frustrated in his attempts to build on the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Winger Valencia has seemingly been nailed-on for a transfer to United ever since stories leaked out about an agreement between the clubs during the January transfer window. Indeed, as much was told to both Chelsea and Liverpool who have made enquiries of Wigan about the player. But the signature has faltered because of a disagreement over the price, with United offering £12 million and Wigan demanding closer to £18 million. Unsurprisingly, Wigan Chairman Dave Whelan has latched on to United’s huge transfer budget and tried to ratchet up the price, while calling Valencia “the best right winger anywhere.” United may be confident that the Ecuadorian has ‘chosen’ them but the Whelan is digging his heals in and the deal could drag on for the best part of the summer. It’s a strategy that any selling club will adopt with United this summer in order to extract the largest possible fee.

If it’s proving problematic to bring Valencia to the club, then the transfer of Benzema will inevitably be even more complex, with Lyon’s Chairman Jean-Michel Aulas well-schooled in driving a hard bargain. Indeed, anybody who can squeeze €15 million out of Barcelona for France’s third-choice left-back must be. Benzema will of course move on eventually but Aulas will look for the best price for a player who appears in no desperate need to leave the French club ahead of next year’s World Cup. While Lyon may talk if the price reaches more than £30 million for the 21 year-old, Benzema may decide to stay put. Moreover, the club will want even more if Benzema does indeed do well at South Africa 2010. Ferguson’s would be wise to seal a deal this summer – and quickly – with a host of top European clubs all too keen to write Aulas the cheque he desires should United hesitate.

Any deal for Villa, Silva and indeed Eto’o seem even more fanciful right now. Debt-ridden Valencia has apparently called off the £30 million plus transfer of Villa to Real Madrid – most probably in order to drive a harder bargain from the capital side, whose bid was some way short of that offered by Barcelona for the Spanish marksman. With the player seemingly reluctant to leave Spain at all, United’s hopes if they ever existed, are dead and burried.

Villa’s team-mate David Silva may be a more reasonable target, with Ferguson short of left-sided quality for the coming season. However, with Nani, Zoran Tošić and the evergreen Ryan Giggs on the books, Fergie may have to offload Nani before any bid for Silva. With the Portugese international apparently rejecting the notion of any move back to his old club Sporting Lisbon, Silva may remain out of reach this summer.

Meanwhile, Barcelona’s Eto’o, who is out of contract at the end of next season, will seemingly go to the highest bidder. If United’s new youth policy – of only signing players under-26 years of age – is truly in effect, there’s little hope that the board will sanction both a £20 million fee and wages that are rumoured to be in excess of £200,000 net per week. A move to Manchester City awaits the Cameroonian international.

Younger players remain at the heart of United’s transfer policy, and Gremio’s Douglas Costa presents an interesting proposition, with Ferguson rumoured to be keen to add to United’s burgeouning Brazilian quotient. The left-footed attacking midfielder will come at a massive price, however, if the player’s parent club get the £20 million transfer fee they are apparently demanding. Costa may be talented but if the manager really is after the player – and this could just as easily be the player’s agent seeking a big money move to any European club – there isn’t a chance that the board will sanction a fee above £20 million for a player unproven in outside of Brazil.

With extortionate fees being demanded and Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid all spending big, it’s set to be a frustrating summer for Fergie and fans alike.