Valencia’s United adventure

Only time will tell whether the winger can have the same impact at Manchester United as he enjoyed at Wigan, but in Alex Ferguson, he has a manager famed for honing the skills of young talent and turning potential into proven talent, writes Nick Tomlinson.

Following in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo was never going to be easy for any incoming player to Old Trafford, but that is the task at hand for Ecuador’s star export Antonio Valencia.

United spent a rumoured GBP16 million to make the right-winger its first signing of the summer ahead of swoops for Michael Owen and Gabriel Obertan following Ronaldo’s GBP80 million switch to Spain.

Sir Alex Ferguson has chosen to ease Valencia into the side with a series of substitute appearances, but expectations are high for the 24-year-old, who was such a prominent figure in helping Wigan become an established English Premier League club.

And if Ferguson’s newest right midfielder is to prolong a long lineage of talented exponents of the crucial role in the red of United, Valencia will need to make the most of the opportunities that he will undoubtedly receive in the months ahead as his team pushes for glory at home and abroad.

Valencia grew up in more humble surroundings compared to the lavish lifestyle he now enjoys at one of the world’s most successful football clubs.

Born in Nueva Loja, in the Amazonian rainforest in Ecuador, a young Valencia reportedly helped his mother sell drinks outside Lago Agrio’s Carlos Vernaza stadium to raise money along with his two brothers.

His football career began with a spell at CD El Nacional, a club which only allows its players to have been born in Ecuador and is owned by the military. A string of good performances in his homeland prompted Spanish side Villarreal to move for the winger.

However, he never really settled and after making only two appearances was loaned out to Recreativo Huelva. Despite being in Spain for two years, it was his nomination for FIFA’s Best Young Player award following his performances in the 2006 World Cup for Ecuador, which really brought the youngster to the attention of Europe’s top bosses.

Paul Jewell, the Wigan manager at the time, acted swiftly and signed Valencia, initially on loan for the 2006/07 season. The winger promptly became a crowd favourite with some thrilling performances and was rewarded for his impressive displays with an extended loan the following season and permanent deal in January 2008.

“Valencia has got that thing which not many players have anymore — the ability to dribble,” said Bruce, who is now at Sunderland, at the time. “People who can run with the ball, take it up the pitch and beat a man are a dying breed — there aren’t many around. We don’t produce players who want to dribble, we seem to produce the archetypal steady English player. If a player does want to take his man on and run with the ball, people will want to pay to go and see him.”

Valencia was also a regular starter for his country and has more than 30 caps to his name, an impressive feat considering his tender years. His first international appearance came in 2005 when he scored twice during a 5-2 win over Paraguay. He was also reportedly a target for EPL clubs Tottenham, Liverpool and Aston Villa during his time at Wigan, but it was off to United for Valencia.

“Joining Manchester United is a dream come true for me. I have enjoyed my time at Wigan, but I am thrilled to have the chance to challenge for the biggest honours in club football here,” said Valencia after penning a four-year deal with the EPL champion.

Only time will tell whether Valencia can have the same impact at United as he enjoyed at Wigan, but in Ferguson, he has a manager famed for honing the skills of young talent and turning potential into proven talent.

Valencia was recently omitted from the Ecuador squad for a game against Uruguay after he failed to produce a suitable excuse for missing a game against Colombia. Despite this, Valencia is now back in the team and gave an impressive, goal-scoring display during a 3-1 win in a World Cup 2010 qualifier against Bolivia in September.

His girlfriend Zoila gave birth to the couple’s first child, Domenik, at the end of the 2006 World Cup. His daughter’s name is tattooed on the inside of his right-arm.

Valencia has yet to be spotted out on the streets of Manchester, but if he is to one day prove the successor to Cristiano Ronaldo he will have some catching up to do in the car stakes — with the Portuguese star having owned an Audi R8, crashed a Ferrari and put his name on the waiting list for a Bugatti Veyron during his time at Old Trafford.

FACTFILE Name: Antonio Valencia Position: Winger Club: Manchester United D.O.B.: 04/08/1985 Ecuador caps: 39 Ecuador goals: 5 Ecuador debut: 2005 v Paraguay Moment to remember

Valencia’s wonder goal against Manchester City in the 2008/09 EPL season set Wigan on the way to a 2-1 victory. Outspoken Wigan chairman Dave Whelan hinted after the game that Manchester United was interested in the winger, something that proved to be true the following summer.

Moment to forget

Valencia has yet to really make his mark at United with a string of steady cameo performances. He will need to improve his form drastically if he is to be the natural successor to Ronaldo.

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