Six seasons at United, Antonio Valencia’s stock amongst the Old Trafford faithful is probably at its lowest. Most tolerate him as an option when there are none other, while there are those that believe United would do well to move him on. He’s not quite as poorly thought of as Tom Cleverly or Darren Gibson were, but there’s significant negativity amongst the fans with him. Supporters have for a while been disappointed with him, feeling that he has become one-dimensional and unadventurous going forward, while being a liability defensively.
While it can never be said that Valencia has been an undeniable top performer, it also seems crazy to view him as a let-down.
Let’s be clear, 2015 Tony V is nowhere near as prolific, adventurous and devastating as the one who once played so well that Fergie handed him the revered Number 7 jersey all those years ago.
Also, like most Manchester United players, he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory last season. It is well documented that he hasn’t been the same since being poor as United’s Number 7. However, despite all this, Valencia has actually been very useful to United and has been a big contributor in that time.
Apart from the season he broke his ankle, he’s been good for about 40 or more appearances each season – that’s under 3 different managers, through good times and through some very tricky times – and it’s clear that managers trust him. One of current boss Louis van Gaal’s first acts in charge was to give Valencia a new contract, and he has since been handed 31 appearances this season (out of 38 competitive United matches). Sure, a good amount of that is due to Rafael Da Silva spectacularly falling out of favour (whole other story, that one), but Smalling and Jones have played in that role many times before, and yet have not been used as cover at right back. In a season where van Gaal has tirelessly tinkered and has played virtually everyone else everywhere else, it says a lot that Valencia is preferred not only that consistently, but also almost always in that position.
Has Valencia’s form really been that bad, or is he still unfairly derided for that one bad season? Sure, he doesn’t take on players as much, and he is famous for blasting low hard driven crosses in from the wing rather than picking out an open team mate, but is it not a fact that in his new, more defensive role, he has to be more cautious with his use of the ball? And is it also not true that time and time again lately he prefers to put in a measured cross and rarely blasts the ball into the box? Prior to this season he has been a consistent goal scorer for United in all seasons except in his fallow 2012-13 season where he scored once (he averages a goal every 10 appearances) and he has topped the Assists list at United – even in his bad year when he had 8.
This season Tony V has 5 shots and 2 assists. He completes over 90% of his passes (bettered only by Carrick). He has no goals yet, sure, but from right back his chances were always going to be more limited. He averages 3 crossed per game and has created 21 chances, more than Blind and Herrera. Defensively he wins more duels than most of his team mates and makes fewer errors. He has not only cut out the defensive mistakes but he has also made key interceptions and clearances. In fact, popular statistics site Squakwa rate him United’s 3rd best contributor over the course of a season! He often plays good matches that go unnoticed, like in United’s last game at Stamford Bridge.
Granted, statistics can be misleading and there areas where he falls short that are just not tracked statistically (can’t weed out a safe pass from an incisive one from passing statistics, for example). However, there is a lot that they do show, and his numbers suggest a player who is doing somethings right, and doing them consistently. United need players like him – hardworking, gritty, effective, but with a touch of class, to balance out the in flair and silky touches from the team’s better players.
Somewhere along the line, it became very fashionable to take a swipe at Antonio Valencia, but really, it’s just not fair to him.