Opinion: Manchester United should not extend Antonio Valencia's contract
Antonio Valencia, Manchester United's Ecuadorian right-back and currently the club captain, runs out of his contract in the summer of 2019. The club has taken measures to open talks with him regarding the extension of his contract along with Ashley Young's, but we have reason to believe that it should not do so.
Joining United in 2009 from Wigan Athletic for €18.9 million, Valencia has had a good run at the club. He was brought in Sir Alex Ferguson to cover the void left by the departing Cristiano Ronaldo and given, perhaps a bit too ambitiously, the number 7 shirt. Valencia used to then play as a right winger, but gradually, over time, he was relegated to a proper full-back position.
Valencia has been a terrific servant to Manchester United but the time has come that the club starts looking beyond him. He will be 34 next August, and there are already signs of him slowing down and losing vitality and speed on the right flank. He is out injured with a strange 'mouth' injury which was preceded by a knee injury, and age already seems to be catching up with him.
What United need now is a young, fresh and confident fullback on the right flank. With a non-existent right wing, they would want to fill the right-back position with someone who is young and yet has learned some of his trade. Manager Jose Mourinho moved towards that direction in the summer when he signed Portuguese youngster Diogo Dalot, but a string of injuries and his apparent inability to suit to the physical demands of the Premier League have seen him left out more often than not.
Dalot is a prospect for the future but what United need now is a right-back who is at his prime and someone who can deliver dangerous crosses into the attacking third and threaten the opposition's defence. This right-back needs to defend with authority too. All these parameters seem to have passed Antonio Valencia by, and therefore it is only right that his contract does not get extended.
Sadly for Valencia, he has not quite aged gracefully as Everton's Seamus Coleman (although the Irishman is three years younger than him) and has been found wanting in the five appearances he has made for United this year. All of this has resulted in United playing Ashley Young, their regular left-back, in the right-back position.
Manchester United need to start being ruthless and bring in young players who can give value for the money spent on them. All top Premier League clubs have excellent fullbacks (Chelsea- Alonso and Azpilicueta, Man City- Mendy and Walker, Liverpool- Alexander-Arnold and Robertson, Tottenham- Davies and Trippier) and it is one area where United is behind the others. It may, if not taken care of now, eventually turn out to be the point of difference between these clubs.
Roma's Alessandro Florenzi seems a brilliant option at right-back while United can also recall loanee Axel Tuanzebe. Jordi Alba, Danny Rose and Alex Sandro have been heavily linked with the club for the left-back position, and United need to spend big money on these players if it wants to get higher up the pecking order in the Premier League.