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Antonio Valencia is Manchester United's unsung hero this season

Saturday 15th April 2017
We all know it's not easy being a defender, particularly when it's not your natural habitat. But Antonio Valencia has broken this orthodox. He's now Manchester United's first choice right-back having seen off competition from Matteo Darmian and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Valencia continues to thrive under Jose Mourinho.

Where it all began…

Who would have thought a winger could settle in a position that is not his natural territory? The process was started by Sir Alex Ferguson way back in 2012. He saw Valencia's true potential and bought him from Wigan Athletic for an undisclosed fee.

Although his natural place was as an attacking winger, Sir Alex began deploying him in deeper roles. Valencia was often lambasted for his inability to deliver crosses into the box and he was poor with his weaker foot (he was totally right foot dominant).

Louis van Gaal realized this and gave him the right back spot. When the likes of Angel Di Maria, Memphis Depay, and Jesse Lingard emerged as wingers, Valencia had to settle for the right back role.

His transition from a winger to a full back was smooth because the player fully understood his duties and rarely got caught out of position.

The current campaign

It didn't take long for Valencia to become the first choice right back in United's defense because United were lacking players in that particular position. And by that time, the club had bought ample attacking talents to fill up the right side.

So, it wasn't hard for Mourinho to figure out who should play on the right side of defense - Valencia was the most reliable option.

And the 31-year-old Ecuadorian repaid his manager's faith in him with solid displays in almost every outing. He has started 25 of the 30 league games United have played up to now. In fact, he has missed few matches.

If we go by individual performances, Valencia has been the most consistent player for United this season. He hardly ever puts a foot wrong. Another thing, United have conceded just 24 goals in the league, with their impressive full-back proving a great contributor defensively.

World's best Right Back?

United manager, Jose Mourinho praised Valencia for his rock solid performances and said, “there is no better right back in football.”

However, the winger turned full-back reacted in a fully fledged manner to his manager's words.

I have to say thanks to the manager for these words, he's definitely given me an incredible amount of confidence. I think it's totally acceptable to say I have improved my game since then and he's given me a lot of game time, which has been very important.

He claimed he's not the perfect right back and still feels like a right-sided attacking player. But his performances this season have proved he has all the qualities of a top class full back.

Valencia's got a great physique along with having pace, which is a rare combination these days. He can protect the ball, burst into space and deliver crosses, and he can also play as an acting winger. The United star often tracks back, he's a solid tackler and wins his duels. And the most important attribute – he can run tirelessly from attack to defense and from defense to attack. Certainly, possessing all these traits mean Antonio Valencia is among the world's best right backs. If not the best!

He must have thought his Manchester United career was over when he saw the likes of Di Maria and Depay arrive at Old Trafford. However, Valencia never gave up. He relied on hard work and is now among the first names on the team sheet every game.

He looks very much settled in United's defense and has played a vital role there since the arrival of Mourinho. Also, United has extended his contract, keeping the Ecuadorian at Old Trafford until at least June 2018.

I would not be surprised if he goes on and wins the Manchester United player of the season award. He absolutely deserves it. In a season where United have gone through many ups and downs one thing has been constant - Antonio Valencia, take a bow.
Zaid Pathan

A huge fan of Peter Drury's bombastic post-goal narration and an ardent football follower since his teens, Zaid believes the beautiful game is the best mode of escape from the daily hustle and bustle. He particularly loves to watch the Premier League and wants English clubs to dominate Europe again.

Life may or may not be beautiful, but football surely is.

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