The news that Antonio Valencia has signed a new three-year contract with Manchester United has so far met with mixed response. While some are claiming that Valencia has been woeful and doesn’t deserve a new contract, others have taken a more sensible approach and claimed that he was the best of a bad bunch.
Ever since the news of his new contract emerged, the twittosphere has been abuzz with plenty of interesting tweets. While some have been pleading Van Gaal to sign someone soon, others haven’t taken too kindly to his new contract and claimed that the Ecuadorian winger doesn’t deserve his place in the side.
The internet isn’t always the best yard stick for this kind of thing, on this occasion they might just be right. Valencia has looked the same since the 2011 Champions League final against Barcelona and looks a shadow of the player he once was. Here are three reasons why I think that extending Valencia’s contract was a big mistake.
Unjust reward for mediocrity
Last season, Manchester United’s malaise on the wing was well documented. Nani, Young and Valencia all had very poor seasons and as a result, the team struggled to create too much in attack. With Nani likely to leave and questions marks being asked about Young’s future, it is slightly unfair that Valencia who wasn’t much better than either of those two is being rewarded with a new contract.
While it is true that Valencia is a far more consistent performer than the other two, last season his performances were consistently abject. The 28-year-old looked as though he was afraid to go forward with the ball. The pace and the crossing with which he made a name for himself, was nowhere to be seen. The fact that he has now been rewarded with a new contract implies that the club have now resorted to rewarding players for mediocrity, which is never a good sign.
Sends out an unambitious statement
As good as Valencia was or might be, his new contract doesn’t send the best of signals to the rest of the footballing world. Since winning Manchester United’s players’ and the fans’ player of the year award in 2011/12, Valencia hasn’t kicked on and developed into a better player. Instead he has regressed and turned into the player who failed to get into the Villareal first-team in 2005.
One thing Van Gaal was expected to do, was start with a clean slate. But by rewarding Valencia, he has already shown that he isn’t doing that. As difficult as it might have been for the Dutchman to let go of all three wingers, based on their displays in the past 18 months that is precisely what he should have done.
With the emergence of Januzaj and a couple of other promising young prospects on the wing, all three should be let go off and world-class reinforcements should have been brought in. Instead of going out and signing a world-class winger like Arjen Robben or Alexis Sanchez, Van Gaal has sent out an unambitious statement saying that he isn’t going to go after world class players and that he is happy with the mediocre ones at hand.
Valencia looks past his prime
The shelf life of a winger is generally not too long. Most wingers have their game built on pace, so when age robs them of their pace, they aren’t of too much use. That is, unless, you have a player like Beckham, whose game isn’t built on it or Ryan Giggs, who is versatile enough to play more centrally.
Unfortunately for United, he is like nothing like either of those two players. Although Valencia initially looked like he might be United’s answer to Beckham, his crossing and set-piece ability is nowhere near as good. And unlike Giggs, Valencia can’t play in a deeper position and the only position he has played in recently is at right back, where hasn’t enjoyed the best of times.
Now 28, Valencia isn’t getting any younger. Although he still has his pace, he doesn’t seem to know what to do with it these days. Unless Van Gaal can breathe a new lease of life into Valencia, the Ecuadorian captain looks like a player whose best days are behind him. His confidence has been shot to pieces since the 2011 Champions League final and it doesn’t look like it is going to get better anytime soon. So starting the 2014/15 campaign, with a winger who is low on confidence and is getting on, might not be the best thing for a side who are looking to not just get back into the Champions League but claim the Premier League crown as well.