Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes has fallen under heavy criticism over the past two weeks since announcing that he will leave the club when his contract expires in the summer of 2014.
Many have have voiced their support for Barcelona’s most successful and longest-serving goalkeeper—including numerous fans at the Camp Nou. But, there have been even more journalists both in Cataluña and throughout much of the footballing world that have vilified the 31-year-old for turning his back on the world’s most popular team.
In some Spanish-language publications, he was criticized for ruining the atmosphere in the Barcelona dressing room, as well as wanting more money abroad—a silly stipulation considering the player reportedly earns €6 million yearly on his current contract. Especially cruel words came from Sport’s founder, Josep Maria Casanovas, who called the player "irresponsible," "ungrateful" and "an opportunist."
However, in the end, all of this ridicule and negativity directed at Valdes proves absurd. His own manager, Tito Vilanova, came out immediately in support of the player’s ability to make his own decisions regarding his future.
Then, four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi issued a statement claiming that Valdes is the best goalkeeper in Barcelona history—a statement clearly supported by mountains of evidence.
Since he joined the La Masia academy at the age of 10, Valdes has played more games than any other goalkeeper in Barcelona history, amassing 485 appearances since he was promoted to the first team in 2002. He has won five league titles with the club, as well as three Champions Leagues and two Copa del Reys. Valdes is also tied with former Barca keeper Antoni Ramallets for the most Zamora trophies collected, with five since the award was established in 1958.
As a result, his commitment and level of performance for the club can hardly be questioned after over 20 years of service in the Catalan capital.
Especially considering the expectations at such a massive and well-supported club, where Valdes himself confessed that playing as a goalkeeper is very complicated and draws both pressure and criticism regularly.
Barca manager Vilanova has made clear that he wants to stick with Valdes as his first choice in goal, even with the reality that he will lose the player in 2014. The side's current backup keeper is Jose Pinto, who has been a regular in cup competition but at 37 years old is hardly the long-term replacement for Valdes.
Therefore, there will be a heavy focus in the coming months as to who will either emerge or come into the side in preparation for taking on such a massive role for the Blaugrana.
As evidence from the current side shows, the club prefer to stick with homegrown players or those who have been nurtured in the academy and then gone abroad for first-team football. Of their current squad of 23 senior players, 15 players spent time at La Masia.
This would support the idea of either their current third choice, Oier Olazábal, or reserve keeper Jordi Masip making the jump in 2014. The former has been with the club since he joined from local lower-league side Real Union in 2007 and has played on 116 occasions for Barcelona B, making one appearance for the first team in May 2009. Masip has been with the B team since 2008, appearing 34 times and mostly serving as a backup to Olazábal. Both players are still in their early-to-mid 20s and could make the transition fairly smoothly.
On the other hand, as in the cases of Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba, Barcelona may look to bring in former goalkeepers who have left the club to go abroad.
One name that sticks out in particular is Pepe Reina, who played for the Catalan club until 2002 and then left for Villarreal and eventually Liverpool, where he has attained legendary status. The plausibility of such a move, however, is reduced by the fact that the Spaniard is only one year younger than Valdes.
In any case, expect Valdes to continue to maintain his current spot for Barcelona until next season. Eventually, there may be a transitional period where another pops up for the club to test his time in the first-team hot seat.
But, as always, Barcelona will be fine. And, as many of the supporters have already done, Valdes should be applauded until his final minute in the Blaugrana kit.