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Is the pressure of the #7 getting to Antonio Valencia?

George Best, Eric Cantona, Bryan Robson, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. If you were living under a rock, you wouldn’t know what’s common among these 5 legends of the game. A number at the back of their jersey? It’s more than that. It’s a legacy.

Rewind to last season, the right flank at every stadium was being bossed around by a powerful Ecuadorian. Andre Santos’s nightmare or Blackburn’s nemesis, he flew past wingers and full-backs with his exploding pace. And he was rightfully awarded the double honours of the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year and the Manchester United Player’s Player of the Year at the 2011-12 edition of the season awards at Manchester United.

He was unpredictable, jinking to the right, cutting inside, teaming up with Rafael and forming an explosive partnership with the Brazilian; all very exciting to see. It was like watching Russian power-house Andrei Kanchelskis all over again. The departure of Michael Owen meant that the legendary number 7 was now vacant and awaiting its rightful suitor: Antonio Valencia.

Manchester United’s No. 7: Antonio Valencia

The number 7 at Manchester United has a fairy tale of it’s own. If we were to write a novel, it’d fall under ‘Fantasy’ category. Even the thought of the big names that have had the fabric of the number 7 touch their skin gives every Manchester United fan the goosebumps.

These players were elite, chosen by the manager as he felt they’d repay his faith with great performances.

The Ecuadorian was an immediate hit at Old Trafford following his transfer from Wigan Athletic. His progress was captivating, coming in as a winger to cover up for the huge void created by the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. Albeit his best season at United was the 2011/12 one, he’s been a reliant winger right from his early days at Old Trafford.

But of late, his form has taken a steep drop. The mid-week FA Cup match against Chelsea just went to show how frustrating it was to lose Nani and get Valencia on. Is the pressure of the legendary number 7 getting to him?

In his second season at the club, he was used extensively as a makeshift right-back for the injured Rafael, and this move proved to be more than effective as he sent a clear message to Ferguson, that in spite of his attack-minded nature, his defensive soundness was a great asset that shouldn’t be unnoticed. Fans even started comparing him to three-lunged S. Korean, Park Ji-Sung.

But it’s just the old curse of the Premier League that’s come to haunt him. The Premier League, in this respect, stands high above the other leagues in the world. His flabbergasting runs all but taught a lesson to his opposition left-backs. These left-backs did their homework over the course of two seasons, and here we are today. Looking at a clueless Antonio as he passes the ball back to Rafael instead of taking the left-back on. His cut-ins that brought him positive reviews have now become his major shortcoming.

Ji-Sung, in spite of primarily being a right midfielder, was versatile and could be played at the center of the park. Valencia is an all-out right midfielder, with a specific skill set. Compare him with his Manchester United contemporaries, Nani and Young – the latter have bags of trickery to come to their rescue, with Young being a holder of the number 7 whilst his time at Aston Villa. Valencia has terrific ball control, but does he have a left foot? That’s a settler, isn’t it? All a defender needs to do is force Valencia towards the by-line and his wayward crosses would either float above the hopeful forwards or just shrivel out for a goal kick.

Is it the weight of the expectations that comes with the jersey taking a toll on him?  Best, one of the best talents to take to the  field at Old Trafford, Robson dubbed as ‘Captain Marvel’,  Beckham is a household name, Ronaldo’s magical tirades down the wings all but adds mental pressure to the holders of this coveted jersey.

There are always two sides to a coin, and there come the list of the blokes that had a forgetful romance with the coveted number at Manchester United, and a few noted ones are: Owen, Ralph Milne and Keith Gillespie.

Should he be slated for his drop in form? I don’t think so.

Valencia has struggled for form this season.

He’s had a drop in form. Agreed, but that’s not enough to deem him as unfit for United? He’s proven himself in the past and I’m sure he’ll do it again.

There’s a certain something that a player of Manchester United gets when he’s criticized through the media. David de Gea’s criticism is what has propelled him to be a reliant keeper at Manchester United, limiting Anders Lindegaard’s chance to just keeping for the reserves. Michael Carrick has proved his critics wrong by putting in some stellar performances for the reds of Manchester. And if past evidence is to be looked at, we might be looking at a changed Antonio with a message to his critics, soon to be clear.

He’s not Ronaldo is he? Saying that he isn’t better than  Ronaldo, and so he has to be stripped of his number 7 jersey, is stating that only Lionel Messi‘s the rightful successor to Ronaldo’s number 7 at Old Trafford.

His attitude towards the game, his humbleness towards the manager, all goes to show he’s a true professional. Overall, an absolute gem for any manager to have in their team-sheets.

Just a slight look into his skill-set, a few changes to his approach to the game, and Manchester United have a speedster waiting to tear left-backs apart once again.

All I think he needs is competition to get the very best out of our Ecuadorian ‘tank’. And with Wilfried Zaha’s arrival in this summer, he’s sure to get a run for his money.

His confidence has abandoned him, but once he finds it back, Arsenal‘s Santos would wish to extend his loan spell at Gremio.

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