Antonio Valencia Reaction to Sterling Understandable After Man Utd Injuries

Paul AnsorgeFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2014

Players argue after England's Raheem Sterling, far left, was called on a sliding challenge on Ecuador winger Antonio Valencia in the second half of a friendly soccer match in Miami Gardens, Fla., Wednesday, June 4, 2014. The game ended in a 2-2 tie. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Alan Diaz/Associated Press

Raheem Sterling's rash tackle on Antonio Valencia at the tail end of the friendly last night between England and Ecuador justly saw him earn a red card. Of course, he was not the only one to see red.

Valencia's violent response to the challenge, apparently swinging an attempted slap, then grabbing Sterling around the neck, meant that the red the Ecuadorian saw was both literal and metaphorical.

On the face of it, this incident looks like very unprofessional behaviour by Valencia. In the dying embers of a friendly, with the score poised at 2-2, for Ecuador's star man to get himself sent off in this way is far from ideal.

There is also the matter of seniority. In going after Sterling, Valencia's attack was on someone almost a decade his junior. Sterling is also giving up four inches to Valencia in height, and given Valencia's remarkable build, around six feet in width.

However, in the heat of the moment, it did not look like the Ecuadorian was paying attention to these factors. The reaction appeared to be one of instinctive anger, and an understanding of the stakes involved, and Valencia's personal history, is necessary in any analysis which hopes to find the truth of the situation.

In September 2010, in a Champions League group game between Manchester United and Rangers, Valencia was challenging for a ball with Rangers defender Kirk Broadfoot. The winger's studs appeared to catch in the turf and he suffered a season-ending leg break, and dislocated ankle.

Alan Diaz/Associated Press

Given the physical and emotional trauma suffered in an injury of this nature, it is little surprise that Valencia's response was so apparently extreme. He is a player who knows all too well what it is like to lose the chance to compete at the highest level through injury.

Whilst Valencia will no doubt receive most of the criticism for the incident, given that he is the senior man, and that his actions happened when the ball was not in play, this may speak to some questionable priorities in football.

At no point during the process did Valencia jeopardise Sterling's appearance at the upcoming World Cup. The same cannot be said for the reverse. Sterling's tackle was dangerous and rash, and unprofessional, given the stakes in the game were far lower than the stakes of potentially injuring an opponent.

In his post-match apology (during which he did not actually apologise directly to Sterling), Valencia said, per the Mirror:

When he (Sterling) tackled me I thought about Segundo Castillo. He nearly missed the World Cup because of injury and I feared I would too, but thankfully I am OK.

Valencia also tweeted:


I apologize to the country, my teammates, the coaching staff for the expulsion of today. But most importantly, I'm fine.

— Antonio Valencia (@7AntoV) June 4, 2014



Missing a World Cup because of an injury in a warm-up friendly must surely be an almost unbearably frustrating experience for any footballer. The truth is, for Valencia, the stakes are even higher.

In the wake of the death of Ecuadorian striker Christian "Chucho" Benitez, Valencia's mourning was clear to see. He had Chucho's nickname and number tattooed on his shoulder, and has displayed it with every goal celebration this season.

The coach of the Ecuadorian national team, Reinaldo Rueda, handed Valencia the captaincy following Benitez's death, saying to Tim Vickery of BBC Sport

Antonio Valencia was closest to Benitez—they were like twins—and so making him the captain was a way of rallying the group.

Fernando Llano/Associated Press

So, from an emotional perspective, Valencia's place at the World Cup being put under threat by a rash challenge in a friendly which is petering out, means more than just a threat to his own position. It is the threat to his position as a man representing someone precious to him. It is a threat to his role as the man leading his country's side out of the ashes of tragedy.

Under these circumstances, Valencia's overreaction could not be easier to understand.