Sir Alex: Valencia key for United

BY foxsports • March 1, 2010

Sir Alex Ferguson was the first to hail the stupendous goal-scoring form of Wayne Rooney this season after the Carling Cup had been locked away once more in the Manchester United trophy cabinet.

But Ferguson did not forget another player who is becoming a vital component in United's quest for a glorious treble, even if he did not trouble the headline writers despite walking off with the man-of-the-match award in the Carling Cup final.

His name is Luis Antonio Valencia Mosquera. Or plain Antonio Valencia to football fans.

Four of Rooney's last five consecutive headed goals, including the winner against Aston Villa at Wembley, have come courtesy of precision crosses from the United winger.

Several more of Rooney's 28 goals this season have been smashed home after assists from the former Wigan wide man darting down the right and threading the killer ball into the penalty area. Indeed, he is fourth in the Premier League's official assists table with nine.

And now Valencia has a major medal in his pocket Ferguson is confident United's fans will begin to see even more from the shy 24-year-old, who carries the millstone of having been bought to replace Cristiano Ronaldo and who cost £16m from Wigan in the summer.

Ferguson said: "He needed that win. He knows he's at the right club and seeing the celebrations at the end was really good for the boy. He's developed all season and improved all the time. It's fair to say they (Aston Villa) couldn't handle him in the second half.

"On the counter-attack we always had them by the throat really. He gave the Villa defenders a real hard time of it."

It has been a rapid rise for Valencia, who endured an underprivileged childhood in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, before starting his career at El Nacional.

He moved to Spanish league team Villarreal in 2005 but spent most of the next year on loan to Recreativo de Huelva before arriving, initially on loan, at Wigan.

In three seasons at the then-JJB stadium Valencia scored seven goals. He has notched that many at United in two thirds of a season.

But it is his ability to give United an 'out-ball,' in the manner of Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs, which has impressed Ferguson most.

"Every player knows where Valencia is in the team," explained Ferguson. "You get those switches of play and Scholesy (Paul Scholes) is continually finding him, getting the ball to him.

"It gives you great relief if you are in front. You know he can take the ball right to the byline and make them defend which is a great asset to have.

"He works his socks off. Well built, good stamina. He's done well for us."

It is all the more impressive because Valencia does not possess the eye-catching skills of Ronaldo. No step-overs. No fancy tricks. Instead, his game is based on hard graft, pace and the ability to deliver the telling cross.

They are talents which have earned 40 caps for Ecuador and which are flourishing as United wind things up at the business end of the season.

The Carling Cup is retained, they are poised one point behind leaders Chelsea in the race for the title and next week face AC Milan at Old Trafford with a 3-2 advantage from the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie.

No wonder Ferguson is wearing his trophy-winning face.

He said: "At the turn of the year you have to focus and make sure you don't make mistakes. We lost a game last week to Everton and I think we were a bit tired but we recovered. We have shown time and time again that this football club has the determination. They don't give in and it's a good quality to have. I think you'll see that in the remaining part of the season.

"It was a good result for us on Saturday with Chelsea losing, and Arsenal are now bang in the frame. They've got the easiest programme on paper and it will be an interesting run-in."

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