By Tom Cook
Antonio Valencia is without question one of the most underrated players in the premiership. Time and again he delivers for Manchester United, often on the big occasions. He very rarely loses the ball, and more often than not whips in a dangerous delivery. His link up play with Rooney is one of the most potent strike-forces in the league.
Perhaps the most admirable aspect to the Equadorian is his directness, and lack of ego. I’m not sure there’s an Equadorian word for ‘showboating’, because Valencia can never be accused of showing off. He’s a minimalist footballer, doing exactly what is necessary to fulfill his role for the team, as efficiently as possible. Why take four or five touches when you can take one and immediately put in a dangerous cross? He’s a team player, one who knows his job and gets on with it, more concerned with team glory than personal.
His pace is often electrifying, although his explosive acceleration has dimmed slightly since his leg break. His passing is accurate and immediate, bringing others into play without delay. His crossing is frequently pinpoint and has great variation; low and hard, chipped and floated, whipped in with inswinging curl, or outside of the boot, Valencia uses each with equal frequency. He’s also a cool finisher, always hitting the target with great power, and he usually converts his chances. Look no further than Blackburn last season for an example of what a clinical finisher he can be.
A quiet and unselfish individual, Valencia has similiar personality traits to both Lionel Messi and Mesut Ozil, two of the best players on the planet right now, as well as team-mate Wayne Rooney, which may explain the pair’s excellent understanding on the football field. As Barcelona have demonstrated so well, football really is a team-game and in that sense, Valencia is a star. Like Rooney, the winger will readily take on intense defensive duties with minimal fuss, content to serve the team to the best of his abilities. On multiple occasions last season we saw him slot seamlessly into the left back position without so much of a whimper.
Perhaps the one failing Valencia could be accused of is one of the ways he’s different from Rooney.
Unlike Wayne, when the chips are down and the team is playing poorly, Valencia will continue to serve his wing duties to the best of his abilities rather than than attempt a single-handed rescue of the game by bawling at team-mates, attempting unlikely dribbles and long-shots, and generally running around like a one man army. However, as Manchester United’s chips are rarely down, perhaps I just haven’t had the chance to see that side of him.