Raised in the Amazon and fortified by military service, Antonio Valencia has taken an unlikely path to becoming one of United’s deadliest attacking weapons…
There's a rare, armour-plated beauty to be savoured in watching Antonio Valencia in full flow; a primal sadism stirred by the knowledge that, whether he needs to go around or through an opponent, he's almost certainly getting by.
The 2011/12 campaign has been a bittersweet affair for the 26-year-old. Deprived of pre-season by injury, then deployed as a makeshift right-back, he was only able to play his way into form in December when he returned to his true calling: physically and mentally brutalising left-backs while amassing assists galore. After Sunday's emphatic return at Wolves, he has now notched 12 since mid-December and embossed his overall contribution with well-taken goals against Wigan Athletic and Arsenal before his scintillating strike at Molineux.
He has been unplayable at times. If defenders aren’t barged out of the way or outstripped for speed, they are sucked into a high-risk battle of minds, in which Valencia’s penchant for crossing chicanery usually wins the day. Stop, start, fake, repeat until an opening arises. He can twist blood and bend reputations – just ask Ashley Cole, the only player to repeatedly shackle Cristiano Ronaldo, but as yet unable to match Valencia whenever United and Chelsea meet.
In Sir Alex Ferguson’s wide and varied attacking armoury, the Ecuadorian is a one-man arsenal. Rarely has Old Trafford seen a player with his blend of power and dexterity: a rhinoceros with the manoeuvrability of a hummingbird.
As a startlingly rare talent, it’s perhaps fitting that Antonio has taken such an untrodden path to stardom; trading the Amazon basin for the banks of the River Irwell. Born in Nueva Loja, capital of the Sucumbíos Province of Ecuador’s Amazon Region, Antonio and his five brothers would scour their