Starting out as a powerful right-winger at Wigan Athletic, since moving to Manchester United Antonio Valencia has gradually become one of the Premier League’s best right backs. This is a transformation that few would have seen coming when he left Wigan Athletic for the then title holders Manchester United but thanks to something Louis Van Gaal introduced regularly and Jose Mourinho refined, Manchester United now have that established right back that has been missing in their side ever since the departure of Gary Neville.
When It All Began
Sir Alex Ferguson had trialed Antonio Valencia as a right-back sporadically towards the tail-end of his managerial career, but the Ecuadorian never looked completely comfortable and Ferguson always preferred the much younger Brazilian defender, Rafael da Silva in that position. It was also that time in his career when the pacey, powerful Antonio Valencia was at his most lethal. He even managed 13 Premier League assists in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season in charge of the Red Devils, highlighting his importance to United in attack rather than defense. But once Van Gaal came aboard in 2014-15, Rafael was immediately shut out by the Dutchman and Valencia started to become Manchester United’s regular right-sided defender. The position initially seemed perfect for him. At right wing-back he could still use his pace to get forward but wouldn’t be totally bombarded with defensive responsibilities because there would always be three others directly in behind him. But it wasn’t as easy a transition as many would have thought and Valencia’s initial tendency to get too far forward ended with the following season, the Red Devils investing in a player more established in that position in a different league, Torino’s Matteo Darmian. After a season riddled with injury in 2015-16, many people would have thought Antonio Valencia’s career was all but over at Manchester United. However, Jose Mourinho has shown a tremendous amount of faith in the 31-year old this season and the now very mature Antonio Valencia is an established part of the team again.
When you look at Antonio Valencia’s career at Manchester United on the whole, maybe it hasn’t been the most successful, but he has always been a key cog in the team and has been there for so long that he’s actually done quite a lot right for the Red Devils. Jose Mourinho should have probably invested in the summer in a new right-back but he didn’t, and Valencia has instead been his man of choice all season long. Taking to the position excellently well, if you’re looking for a consistent Manchester United performer this season, you have to look no further than Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian was often heavily criticized in the past for over-complicating things, being rash and at times even being deemed selfish, but none of those words could be used to describe the current incarnation of Valencia who just seems to have a much cooler head about him this season.
Mourinho, a very defensive minded manager has clearly helped to improve Valencia’s ability and know-how in defense but he also just looks a much more mature footballer now. He’s become more composed in possession, his delivery into the box has improved and he’s even learned when to pick and choose his moments to go forward. That accompanied with an improved grasp of the defensive side of the game has led Antonio Valencia to become Jose Mourinho’s first choice defender. His teammates have applauded his efforts all season long with Ander Herrera even proclaiming him to be right up there with Dani Alves as one of the best in the world. Meanwhile many United fans who turned on the Ecuadorian long ago have come around on Valencia as well. It is clear that with consistency and an improved understanding of the defensive side of the game, that Antonio Valencia has managed to completely change his game around and become an established Premier League defender under Mourinho in 2016-17.
It seems almost crazy to say it, but Antonio Valencia is one of the best right-backs in the Premier League right now and continues to be one of Jose Mourinho’s most important players at Manchester United this season.