It’s that time of the year where we decide our player of the season, here at Red Flag Flying High, our various writers have different opinions on who deserves the accolade of ‘United’s Player of the Season.’ Here’s Zayd’s on why it should be the man from Ecuador. Whether you agree or not you can cast your vote at the poll at the foot of this article.
The 2011/12 season has been one of tremendous drama and excitement for football fans across the country. There have been many moments of controversy, skill, pride and, unfortunately, near tragedy that has also brought out the best in showcasing this sport as a community, rather than merely a tribal following of clubs.
With the Premier League season reaching it’s climax with merely six games left to play in what has been a fantastically competitive season, everyone is aware that there is still plenty to play for before any sort of conclusions can be made. At the summit of the table, Manchester United find themselves 8 points clear of rivals Manchester City, having overturned a deficit that has seen United take a miserly approach to conceding points as well as City’s failings in matches away from home and while there have been issues in other competitions this season, namely Europe, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have continued to earn results domestically.
Although the season is not over, and nobody will be celebrating until the title is back at Old Trafford, it may be worthwhile discussing who we believe to be Manchester United’s player of the year. Many members of the squad have provided their own contribution to United’s up-and-down season, often quite positively.
David De Gea, after a baptism of fire to his start of the campaign, has shown greater consistency since his reinstatement after being dropped, recently being attributed in some games to the side not dropping points. Jonny Evans has come to the fore in a greater capacity, a necessity when Nemanja Vidic was ruled out for much of the season. Of course, we cannot forget to mention the return of Paul Scholes, a move which has so far seen United pick up 34 out of a possible 36 since he came back. These are just a few examples of others who have made their own mark on the season, but my choice for player of the season is one I believe has stood out amongst all others.
For me, United’s outstanding player of the season is Ecuadorian winger, Antonio Valencia. The 26 year old signing from Wigan has drawn many admirers since signing in 2009, and this campaign has seen him exert a telling influence on the side. After suffering an horrific double fracture last season, he came back with a strength and determination that left many surprised, culminating in pushing his way into the starting line up ahead of an impressive Nani at the business end of that year.
This season has seen the traditional right winger add a greater dimension to his game as well as having a hand in other areas when United have needed it, displaying his willingness to do right by the team ahead of his own preferences. Held back by a couple of injuries he has made 21 appearances so far, which merely emphasises his importance to the side this season given my belief that he is the outstanding performer ahead of other more regular players.
Due to his consistency and almost refreshing traditional play down the right, the absence of Nani in recent weeks has not really been felt. In a season that has seen David Silva of Manchester City impress many observers, it is striking that having played nine fewer games, Valencia has equalled the number of assists provided at 12, as well as notching up 4 goals in the league.
The following are statistics provided by whoscored.com in the Premier League:
- Accurate crosses – 1.7 per game
- Key pass that leads to attempt on goal – 2.5 per game
- Pass success rate – 85.8 %
- 1 assist from a defensive position
- 4 goals from 17 shots
- 0.8 shots per game
We see from these statistics that Valencia regularly has a hand in United’s attacking threat, we always see how he tirelessly runs up and down the right flank as play gets channelled out wide to him, or when he tracks back to provide defensive cover. His efforts at right back are worth noting, and while his strengths remain in an offensive capacity, one cannot deny that his play at right back earlier in the season had some benefit at a time when defensive options were running thin, with his well disciplined mindset to hold position and a refusal to leave his area exposed he provided adequate cover until more suited options became available.
As well as this, having been used to the style of play provided by Nani that often meant the right side may have been left a little exposed, it was refreshing to witness Valencia do his utmost to track back and support the right back, an attribute notably seen when the attack minded Rafael has played there, working well as a united to add extra strength to the back line. Has his season been perfect? No, there have been the occasional stutters, particularly early on when there may have been fears he was holding back, a delayed reaction to his injury problems. As well as this, an over reliance on play down the right has stifled if there is little luck going down that avenue, perhaps requiring a little extra variety in his play. But for the slight grievances, the overwhelming belief is an admiration for his consistency, drive, pace, power and effectiveness that has given fans something to compliment whenever he has featured in the side.
In summary, I believe Antonio Valencia is Manchester United’s player of the season, for the large impact he has made throughout the campaign. The improvements to his game, such as his dribbling and finishing on goal, have added extra dimensions to a game that featured pace, determination, discipline and power to his qualities. There are a few descriptions one could add to sum up his contributions. His consistency, selfless attitude, versatility among others are all worthwhile attributes. The most appropriate term, in my opinion, is effective.
Antonio Valencia. My player of the season.