Can Juan Mata Make a Difference This Season?
In comparison to their frankly comical display in the summer, Manchester United’s transfer activity in the January window was positively professional. There were no inside leaks, no rushed loan offers and no unaffiliated lawyers trawling around Spain looking for a decent central midfielder. Instead, United’s sole piece of activity was the acquisition of Spanish playmaker, Juan Mata.
The Two Faces of Antonio Valencia
He had delivered cross after cross. Whipped them high across the box. Smacked them across the turf. No result. Manchester United were battling to stay alive in the race for the title and he was carrying them on the back. In the 81st minute he had had enough. If they couldn’t finish the job, he’d do it himself. And so he did.
There’s something beautifully nostalgic about a winger who thrives on getting chalk on his boots. They ply their trade bombing down the sides of the pitch just waiting for a chance to run at their defender and deliver a ball in. In the days where wingers are relied to move inwards and act as a wide attacker, the job the traditional winger used to do is passed on to the modern wingback. Nevertheless, any Manchester United fan relishes any time Antonio Valencia gets on the ball. Because things will happen. Well, they used to happen.
When Cristiano Ronaldo left for Real Madrid in 2009 the torch was passed on to the Ecuadorian. That was never fair. To be the man to replace the irreplaceable is never really fair. Valencia, however, brought something new to the table. When the ball was passed out to him, he’d hesitate, wait until he found a chink in his defender’s armor and then hammer at him. On the outside of his defender he’d get the first yard and would smash cross after cross in. A throwback to the days of Andrei Kanchelskis or David Beckham, Valencia represented something old, yet fresh, at Manchester United. With Ronaldo gone, United seemed perhaps a bit more like a unit whereas with Cristiano Ronaldo it was pretty much all about him.
As the season progressed, so did Valencia’s improvement. It was therefore valid to believe that he would really stake his claim in his second season. Unfortunately, a freak injury to his ankle saw Valencia out for five months. When he returned, it seemed like he hadn’t even skipped a beat. Former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola’s even said ahead of the 2011 Champions League final that Antonio Valencia was the best pure winger this world had to offer. Another testament to the development and importance Valencia had. The next season proved even greater for Valencia as delivering 5 goals and 15 assists in 32 games was enough reason for Valencia to be named both the “Fans’ Player of the Season” and “The Player’s Player of the Season”. He also completed his hat trick by having his goal against Blackburn named “Goal of the Season”. Having had endless crosses result in nothing, he took matter into his own hands and kept United in the title race with an absolute thunderbolt of a strike from the edge of the area. It seemed as if Antonio Valencia really had become “Toño Maravilla” (Amazing Tony).
Before the start of the 2012/2013-season Antonio Valencia switched his no.25 shirt for the legendary no.7. Does a shirt really matter in terms of performances? There are many theories both ways, but perhaps there are valid claims that it has become too big of a burden for the broad-shouldered Ecuadorian. There certainly weren’t any obvious factors that led to the drop in form. In fact, Valencia recorded the second highest amount of games as Manchester United player last season, second only to his first season at the club. Yet, the end product seemed increasingly worse. The one thing said about Antonio Valencia was “it’s one thing knowing what he’s going to do, it’s another to stop him from doing it”. The bombing down the flanks, the variation in crossing, the ferocious shot he unleashed from time to time had turned into short backpasses, getting caught out by his man and generally not looking comfortable on the wing. Sure, there were injury niggles here and there, but nothing that really would explain his sudden fall from grace. So what stopped Tony in his tracks?
The answer is that there really is no definite answer. Having gone from one of Manchester United’s brightest attacking weapons to somewhat of liability in under a season is nothing short of bizarre. With no real reports of there being an injury problem, it would seem plausible that the bright lights and big stage at Old Trafford just became a bit too bright and a bit too big when Valencia adorned the no.7. From having been a maverick, an alternative out wide, he suddenly became the headliner. It is one thing to deal with it in Ecuador, it’s another to deal with it at Manchester United. What does ring through is that the managerial change at Manchester United will lead to a career defining season for United’s no.7. As David Moyes continues to tinker with his team, it seems possible that Antonio Valencia will eventually get the chance to redeem himself. And as the 2013/2014 season brings to life a whole new era at Manchester United, the timing couldn’t be any more perfect for “Toño Maravilla” to make his long-awaited comeback.
MUFC Class of 2013: End of Term Report: Midfield
Due to Tom’s busy summer schedule, other writers from the Can They Score team will continue the MUFC class of 2013 end of term report. With Chris snapping up the easy job of rating the forwards in the team, I, Frenchy, have been left with the nightmarish duty of evaluating and grading Manchester United’s rather lacklustre midfield.
I have evaluated every player who made a minimum of ten appearances over the season. For each I have followed a standard school report format: identified what I considered a realistic objective for the start of the season (OBJ), identified what went well (WWW) and even better if (EBI). Each player has also been graded. The judgments are based on performance against expectations and in no way should be considered a hierarchy of ability.
Walk away Wayne, it’s for the best
Rooney has been replaced. He looks on grim-faced as the young pretender relishes the opportunity and rapidly graduates from little known understudy to the main event whilst the team’s former talisman looks on. Rooney faces the reality that his best days are past. No longer do his team mates and supporters entrust him with their hopes and dreams. As much as they revere the part he has played in the club’s history; it is clear to all that the future belongs to others.
Fortunately for the man who goes by a teenager’s nickname, the Rooney in question is Jack rather than ‘Wazza’. This scene from Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday plays like a disconcerting premonition of things to come for United’s number ten.
Like Jack, having got used to being the main man, Wayne has found his billing reduced. Not only has Robin van Persie usurped him as the team’s star attraction, but both Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck have in the eyes of many fans emerged as the men most likely. Like in all his films, Stone’s message lacks subtlety but rings true regardless. Everyone can be replaced. Today’s star can become Yesterday’s man before he even knows it.
In Wayne’s case, you can inevitably trace the beginning of his fall from grace to that distasteful episode where in league with his agent he either a) extorted the club or b) took on the Glazers, depending on your view of the man. Regardless of the motivation, his appeal for the acquisition of world class talent has both enhanced the team and diluted his influence. Proven high quality arrived in the form of Robin van Persie, along with potential greatness in De Gea, Jones and Kagawa. The last title-winning side – so reliant upon its talisman – was remoulded, no longer centred upon Rooney. He is not alone in finding himself a functional sentry where once he was a centurion. Both Nani, and even Valencia , have found themselves at odds with the manager’s tactical vision.
To describe Rooney as having a poor season would be ridiculous. He provided a staggering number of assists, delivered a reasonable return in front of goal and earned plaudits for his willingness to adapt to deeper roles. This last element is where the questions lie. Arguments rage over Rooney’s potential to become a central midfielder but the fact these debates continue as he finishes his eighth season at the club is proof of the state of flux in which he finds himself. In the wake of Ronaldo’s sale, expectations rose that Rooney would fulfil his promise to emerge as a player equal to the greatest in world football. For a time he threatened to do so; memorably eviscerating a Milan side who had no answer to his combination of explosive power and intelligent movement. This was not to be sustained, as inconsistency in performance (if not output) convinced his manager to look elsewhere. The call for more goals to fight back against City brought a new face rather than a renewal of faith in the existing star. To paraphrase OFSTED, Rooney has been ‘good, with outstanding features.’
Should Rooney have become the player we hoped? Perhaps we asked for too much. The teen prodigy has edged close to becoming the record goalscorer for one of the world’s greatest clubs. Precious few precocious sportsmen have ever gone on to fulfil the lofty expectations lavished upon them – I give you Robinho for example. Yet like Robinho, the suspicions remain that lifestyle choices away from the field have undermined his achievements on it. None too subtle regular references to his ‘conditioning’ suggest his manager agrees. Even those Reds who defended his actions in the contract saga could not defend his return from the summer clearly overweight. We hoped the arrival of RvP and Kagawa would fuel his appetite to prove his worth, but sadly it seemed only to have fuelled his appetite. On the field Rooney has cut an unusually isolated figure at times this season; appearances punctuated by unforced errors and the now familiar throwing up of the arms when things don’t go his way. Life on the football field frequently looks a chore rather than the pleasure it once was.
Apologists might point to his manager as the reason for a failure to press on. The tombola has forced Rooney to play markedly different roles from week to week. It is an oft heard lament that Rooney’s selfless flexibility has been exploited at the cost of excelling in one particular role. ‘He can play anywhere’ is meant as a compliment, yet the great players don’t. For them it is an endorsement of capability as oppose to a statement of intention. Robson and Keane were both praised as such yet positional changes for those two only came in the darkest of injury crises. The reality for Rooney is that despite being given opportunities to establish himself as both a striker and a creator, he has not convinced his manager of his ability to excel in either role. In the two biggest matches of the season, he was used either as a grafter or not at all. As much as supporters tried to underplay the significance of both selections, the inescapable fact was that Wayne Rooney is no longer considered essential to success. The era of ‘the big man’ is over.
The perverse reality is that in the month that he has added yet another title to his burgeoning collection, Rooney is perceived to be mulling over his next move. Stay, sign a new deal and fight for his desired place? All power to him if he does, but Ferguson’s fluttering of eyelashes at Dortmund’s lethal Pole don’t suggest a man preparing to restore Rooney to frontline service. Nor does the pointed praise of Kagawa and promises of a big future ahead suggest Rooney’s future role will replicate that of his shirt number. An alternative then is stay, sign a new deal and continue to serve in a variety of roles. Those who claim that Rooney could convert to a champions league quality central midfielder after ten draining years have admirable faith I sadly lack. His expensive use of the ball and frequent heavy touch don’t meet the criteria for the mobile, technical number 8 Ferguson craves.
The real alternative could be out of Rooney’s hands, yet ruefully I feel it best for the player and most probably the club. His contribution to our club derserves respect; at times he has carried us. Yet despite the occasional moments of brilliance; the consistent excellence that characterises the true greats has proved elusive once again this season. If a suitor is prepared to cross the Glazers palms with sufficient silver; a new club, with a new manager, could be precisely the fresh challenge needed to make the next five years of Rooney’s career the peak rather than the epilogue.
With Wingers Like These, Who Needs Midfielders?
As the final whistle blew at St Mary’s on Saturday evening, two-hundred odd miles north west it’s likely that the sound of ripping paper could be heard tearing through the front room of the Ferguson household.
With City beaten 3-1 by Southampton, all bets were off (in some cases quite literally) and any ideas of squad rotation were quickly abandoned; the advantage would be pressed home with a full-strength side to secure 12-point lead at the top.
Based on present form, the core of United’s strongest starting eleven picks itself at present: De Gea in goal; Evra and Rafael out wide; Evans guards the centre alongside one of Vidic and Rio; Carrick and Cleverley take the middle; and Rooney and van Persie line up at the front.
Full Time Thoughts: Man United 2-1 Liverpool
In a game where incidents before kick-off and after the final whistle have grabbed the spotlight, it has been almost forgotten that a dominant United team sealed a return to the top of the Premier League.
Two well taken goals from Wayne Rooney cancelled out Luis Suarez’s efforts at the other end and ensured United earned the three points.
Stat Attack: Welbeck Nets Winner at the Emirates
It wasn’t quite the performance between these two sides that saw Manchester United thrash Arsenal 8-2, earlier this season, but Danny Welbeck netted a vital late winner to keep the 19 times English champions within touching distance of the league leaders.
Luis Valencia made a telling contribution on the right wing, and later at right full back, against Thomas Vermaelen, who was making a rare appearance on the left for Arsenal.
Antonio Valencia’s Time At Old Trafford So Far
It was the 11th June 2009 and Manchester United had just accepted a world record £80million fee for Cristiano Ronaldo.
A man that had helped the Reds win nine honours in total during his 6 years at the club, including 3 Premier League and 1 Champions League winners medals.
Happy 26th Birthday Antonio Valencia! A Timeline of his United Career So Far
June 30th 2009 – Antonio Valencia joins Man United from Wigan
Manchester United complete the signing of Antonio Valencia from Wigan Athletic on a four-year deal. Valencia’s transfer is reported to have cost United up to £16million.