It was only a few months ago that Antonio Valencia was being hyped as one of the best right midfielders in the world. Impressive performances last season led to the double honours of the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year and the Manchester United Player’s Player of the Year 2011-12 awards.
So, coming off the back of some sterling displays last season and reaching the milestone of a half century of international caps for his national side Ecuador, Sir Alex Ferguson thought it deserving that Valencia be rewarded with Manchester United’s legendary No. 7 shirt.
Since then, Valencia’s form has taken a massive dip.
Could it be the weight of expectation the shirt carries with it? To be thrust alongside George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo in the annals of Manchester United history must naturally come with some mental pressure.
George Best was arguably the best talent ever to have graced the hallowed turf at Old Trafford. Bryan Robson was known on the terraces as Captain Marvel, Cantona as King Eric and David Beckham as Golden Balls. Cristiano Ronaldo won the FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d'Or during his tenure at Manchester United.
At 27 years of age and moving into his fourth season with Manchester United, Valencia is expected to reach his peak footballing powers and have matured into a key player for the Old Trafford outfit.
Yet, after 10 Premiership appearances so far in 2012-13, he has failed to register a single goal and provided only three assists. Ineffective performances have resulted in Sir Alex Ferguson substituting him on a couple of occasions, too.
His confidence seems to have abandoned him, his ability to get behind opposition defences has diminished and his crossing has been woeful—or speculative, at best. Defenders have learned how to nullify his direct approach and deal with his strength and pace. His frustrating tendency to over-complicate rather than deliver the early ball seems to have worsened.
Constant transfer speculation has only served to intensify the criticism of Valencia.
There is a clamour among fans to bring in a truly world-class winger. Sir Alex Ferguson missed out on Eden Hazard and Lucas Moura in the summer, and emerging transfer rumours suggest Manchester United is now taking a close look at Colombian flanker James Rodriguez, according to the Daily Mail.
Many fans will argue that Antonio Valencia’s character is exemplary, he is never a moment of trouble off the field and he is the model professional. They will say form is temporary and class is permanent and therefore his performances will inevitably improve.
On the other hand, many fans will say he has never been, nor will he ever be, worthy of wearing the coveted No. 7 shirt.
They will argue he was much better as a No. 25, and the pressure of donning that legendary Manchester United No. 7 is just too much for him.