By Mark Weasley
Right backs playing at Manchester United have always being judged on the Gary Neville benchmark. The former England defender was a no-nonsense player in his pomp, consistently delivering performances that defied belief. The player alongside his younger brother, Phil was a member of the famed Class of ’92 and played with dignity for more than 18 years in the first team before retiring in 2011. When Antonio Valencia joined Manchester United in the summer of 2009, no one knew that come more than a decade later, he would still be a mainstay at the club and no one could even have thought that he would re-invent himself as a right back.
United signed him from Wigan to offer competition for Nani in the right midfield position, and he subsequently delivered in his first season, continuously creating goal after goal most of which Wayne Rooney was the chief beneficiary. A nasty knee injury affected him but his response since that setback has been nothing short of emphatic.
The Ecuadorian couldn’t have believed it growing up the modest South American nation that at some point in the future, he would he leading one of the greatest teams in the world as captain. Valencia has proven that no player deserves to be written off, if the player works really hard.
Valencia is the assistant captain at the club, as manager, Jose knows that he is his lieutenant on the pitch that will never drop his levels and challenge his teammates to do more than they ordinarily wouldn’t have done. Mourinho, over the years has had loyal players that could run through brick walls for him and in Valencia at United, he knows that he has a player that is almost the same in terms of personality with him on the pitch, and only the long stay of Michael Carrick prevented Valencia from getting the armband on a full-time basis when Wayne Rooney left for boyhood club, Everton.
Gone are the marauding runs as a right winger which has been replaced by a sense of attacking and defensive awareness that has made him a better player. Originally a winger, playing as a defender helps him anticipate wide men moves as he used to play like one and can still play there.
As United look to return to the top of English football, Valencia is a key cog in the team that is looking to win the title under Jose Mourinho, and there are none better players to lead the players over the line during the course of the season than 31 year old winger. He has done all right at United and after close to 300 matches for the club, he will forever be remembered for his passionate displays. He is undoubtedly a club icon.