7. ANTONIO VALENCIA
|Birthdate:||04 Aug 1985|
|Joined United:||30 Jun 2009|
|United Debut:||9 Aug 2009 v Chelsea (N)|
Armed with pace, power and dizzying chicanery, Antonio Valencia is one of the leading exponents of wingplay.
The Ecuadorian is the latest player to wear United’s iconic number seven shirt, having established himself as one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s most potent attacking weapons since his arrival at Old Trafford in the summer of 2009. His transfer to United curtailed a three-year stint at Wigan Athletic, where he had piqued manager Paul Jewell’s interest with a series of impressive performances in central midfield in Ecuador’s campaign at the 2006 World Cup. Though his performances earned him a nomination for FIFA’s Best Young Player award, Valencia was only a bit-part player at Villarreal and had gone into the tournament after a successful loan spell with Recreativo Huelva in Spain’s second tier. It required another loan deal to take him to Wigan, but Antonio impressed sufficiently as the Latics excelled in their first Premier League campaign and he made a permanent move to the JJB Stadium as Steve Bruce took over from Jewell. In his three seasons at Wigan, Valencia made 83 appearances, scoring seven times and catching the eye of several bigger clubs. Antonio turned down the chance to join Real Madrid, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to move to Old Trafford in the summer of 2009. Hopes that a superb maiden season could be replicated were dashed when he suffered an horrific ankle injury in United’s Champions League draw with Rangers in September 2010. However, Valencia made a breathtaking return to fitness and form within six months. He played a key role as the Reds regained the Premier League title – making him a league champion for the first time – and he ended a topsy-turvy campaign with fittingly mixed emotions, starting his first Champions League final but tasting defeat against Barcelona. Valencia’s third season at Old Trafford proved his most eye-catching, as a glut of assists took United to within a whisker of a 20th league title, and his personal excellence was rewarded with a clean sweep at the club’s end-of-season awards bash, where he picked up the fans’ and players’ player of the year gongs as well as the goal of the season award. Michael Owen’s departure in the summer of 2012 gave Antonio the chance to inherit the Reds’ famous number seven shirt, marking another lunge forward in the Ecuadorian’s rise to prominence. It’s a journey which has taken him from the Amazon Basin to the banks of the River Irwell, and one which shows no sign of abating.