One to Watch - Antonio Valencia
Name: Antonio Valencia
Date of Birth: 4/8/1985
Former Clubs: El Nacional, Villarreal, Recreativo, Wigan Athletic
League Appearances (Goals): 245 (28)
International Appearances (Goals): 51 (6)
Stat of the Day Antonio Valencia has 12 Premier League assists this season, the joint-most along with Man City's David Silva
Very rarely does Sir Alex Ferguson get it wrong. Signed from Wigan for a less vaunted, yet hardly insignificant, £17 million, Antonio Valencia has turned out to be another real coup for Manchester United. Despite lacking the eccentricity of a Cristiano Ronaldo or the status of a Wayne Rooney, the Ecuadorian has epitomised the English Champion`s enviable work ethic, much sought-after quality and desirable winning mentality. Whilst much has transformed during Ferguson`s tenure at Old Trafford, none more so than his comical goal celebrations, his footballing principles have not. Valencia is his right winger; his Kanchelskis, his Ronaldo, his touchline warrior. Analogous to QPR`s exasperating off the field antics, his playing style is incredibly predictable yet infuriatingly unpreventable; his burst of pace to leave his opposing defender stranded followed by a dangerous cross is so simple, yet extremely effective.
Whilst United`s rivals have seemingly faltered in the final furlong of the title onslaught, Man Utd and Valencia have come to the fore, producing imperative match winning performances. Having missed a substantial amount of the beginning of the season, Valencia has proved his worth and ever-increasing appeal for a spot in Ferguson`s side. Whether at right back, or propping up in a more attacking role, the 26-year-old`s instinctive understanding of the minute shifts of balance and momentum, as opposed to a Nani-like stepover or Ashley Young-flick, has further proved how invaluable he is to United. When QPR aren`t worrying about Rooney, Scholes, Young, Evra, Evans or Welbeck on Sunday, it might be wise to keep an eye on the talented and adroit Antonio Valencia.
Valencia started his career at Ecuadorian side El Nacional and within a year was fast-tracked into the Under 20s. He finished up with 11 goals in 83 appearances at Nacional earning him a move to Spanish side Villarreal in 2005. He failed to break into the first team however, and was loaned to Recreativo de Huelva in order to gain experience, where he helped his side gain promotion to La Liga as they finished the season top of the table.
In August 2006, Valencia joined Paul Jewell`s Wigan Athletic initially on a year-long loan deal. He made his debut in a 2-1 loss to Newcastle, and soon cemented his place in the side as one of Wigan`s best players. In 2008 he was signed permanently for a fee of around £5 million and in his three seasons at Wigan the Ecuadorian made 83 appearances, scoring seven times. His impressive performances caught the eye of Ferguson and he became Man Utd`s first summer signing in 2009, for a fee of around £17 million. Valencia has already made 64 league appearances for United and is well on his way to securing another Premier League title for his side.