Is there a harder job in football than filling the shoes of Cristiano Ronaldo?
The Portuguese front man, who left Manchester United to join Real Madrid in the summer of 2009 for a staggering £80m, was recognised as not only the greatest player to appear for Manchester United in modern times, but also the greatest player to ever appear in the Premier League; so anybody deemed as a replacement really had his work cut out.
Step in Antonio Valencia – the man who did not smile for two full seasons.
Brought in for £16m, yet at the time still relatively unknown to most – ‘Tony V’ was seen as a rookie to begin with; a totally different footballer and character to Cristiano.
A well mannered, shy Ecuadorian who’s most recognisable achievement was keeping Wigan in the Premier League surely couldn’t carry the mantle from the confident, self groomed, world beater who broke record after record whilst playing at Old Trafford?
Now let’s skip four years and fast forward to this season. The current form of Valencia is derisory.
He cannot beat a man, his crosses have been crashing into row Z, and hitting the target with any efforts on goal seems near impossible.
Let’s face it, had this happened in 2009 when he first joined United, it would have gone slightly unnoticed as nobody expected him to materialise into such an outstanding winger.
It would have been as simple as this: Sell Ronaldo, replace with Valencia, not good enough, sell Valencia, look for a different replacement.
However, what goes against the 27-year-old is clearly his own doing. During 2009-2012, Antonio Valencia had performed at such a high standard that the United faithful expect great things from him every single week which is an impossible ask.
There isn’t one winger who rips Ashley Cole to pieces every single time they play. Antonio Valencia does.
Not every winger hugs the touchline and waits for his opportunity; most get frustrated and come in field looking for the ball, relinquishing their defensive duties and hindering the shape of the side. Antonio Valencia doesn’t.
What you get with Tony V is honesty and work rate. I can definitely think of times when I have cursed him for a poor delivery, but I cannot think of one occasion when he has picked personal glory over the good of the team.
Now moving on to a topic which frustrates me immensely – that number.
Being handed the coveted number seven shirt seems to play on the mind of the Twitter brigade far too much for my liking.
Yes it was the shirt worn by the great George Best, captain marvel Bryan Robson, the king himself Eric Cantona and of course golden balls David Beckham… but it was also the number worn by Michael Owen and Ralph Milne who, let’s face it, were rubbish.
Antonio Valencia being the latest number seven simply has no relevance on his game, and for every tweet I see that refers to him as losing his form because of the pressure of the number; or that he isn’t worthy – I die a little inside.
To clarify the point that I have strayed from – I can see Antonio Valencia is having a tough time at the moment. He doesn’t look confident and he has forgotten how to deliver a cross; but this doesn’t make him a bad player and it doesn’t mean his time is up at the club.
Only three months ago it was apparently time for Nani to leave – but now Valencia isn’t firing on all cylinders, Nani is vital again? You are having a laugh.
I would bet my house that Antonio Valencia recaptures his scintillating and devastating form in time for the season run-in, and all of his critics will be eating their words come May.
I would even go as far as saying Nani will also have a huge part to play, therefore leaving somebody else to get unfairly slaughtered… Enter Carrick.