Antonio Valencia doesn't wear the iconic No 7 shirt but he has filled Cristiano Ronaldo's boots brilliantly
Last updated at 3:06 PM on 16th April 2010
Fill your boots: Antonio Valencia was given the No 25 shirt to avoid comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo
1 His full name is Luis Antonio Valencia Mosquera. His nickname Tono Maravilla means ‘The Marvel Tono’. The moniker was given to him by Orlando Narvaez, a coach from his first club El Nacional, who also gave Birmingham’s Christian Benitez his nickname ‘Chucho’.
2 Valencia was born on August 4, 1985, in Nueva Loja, aka Lago Agrio, the largest residential area in the Amazonian jungle in Ecuador. It was founded in the 1960s as a base camp for Texaco, who still extract oil from the region.
3 The Valencia family sold drinks outside Lago Agrio’s Carlos Vernaza stadium near their bungalow in the district of Guayaquil. The young Valencia, one of seven children — six sons and a daughter — helped by trawling the streets for discarded bottles that his father sold to a bottle-deposit company.
4 Pedro ‘Papi’ Perlaza, once of Barcelona, spotted the slim young boy playing barefoot on a dusty field near his home. The kid was raw but had obvious natural talent and Perlaza loved the way he effortlessly won possession on the scorched ground. By coincidence, Perlaza had been asked to run a football academy in Sucumbios to find the best youngsters in the region. He signed Valencia that afternoon and spent four years improving his skills on pitches often flooded by monsoon rains.
Potential: Valencia as a 14-year-old
5 Perlaza said: ‘He was a great player and very strong, although his brother Edder was in even better condition. But Luis Antonio has always been disciplined and wanted glory. I always said he was going to be a pro footballer but, at first, Antonio had no pressure hitting the ball. But patience and dedication paid off. I remember we would put 14 balls in a line and make him hit seven dishes in the goal without a goalkeeper. This work paid off.’
6 The pair lost contact, but when Valencia returned to Lago Agrio in July and played in a charity match with the many graduates who have been nurtured by ‘The Daddy’, he invited Perlaza to an international match in Quito. Valencia met Perlaza and talked for hours. Valencia arranged to send equipment to his mentor’s latest football school in Esmeraldas.
7 At 16, Valencia moved to Quito and joined the army club Club Deportivo El Nacional on a monthly salary of £34. Within a year, he was fast-tracked into the Under 20s, where he played alongside Birmingham striker Christian ‘Chucho’ Benitez and scored 20 goals in 84 matches.
8 Valencia’s idol was Edison Mendez, now a winger with PSV Eindhoven. He made his El Nacional debut in the same team as his hero and the pair still play for the national team together, operating on opposite flanks. Valencia has 34 international caps.
Wing wizard: Valencia has settled easily into life at Manchester United
9 The young Valencia moved to the barracks in the capital without his father’s knowledge. His mother packed his suitcase and sent him on a bus. ‘We thought he [his father] would never say yes because he wanted me to stay with the family and finish my studies,’ said Valencia. ‘He was looking around the house asking where I was. Eventually, they plucked up the courage to tell him after two days and when he calmed down he realised it was for the best. I was in tears when I went. It was so young to be leaving home.’
Idol: PSV Eindhoven's Edison Mendez
10 His girlfriend Zoila gave birth to Domenik during the 2006 World Cup finals. His daughter’s name is tattooed on the inside of his right arm.
11 Valencia made his debut for Ecuador in March 2005 and scored twice in a 5-2 win over Paraguay which sealed qualification to the World Cup in Germany. That summer he joined Villarreal with Argentine goalkeeper Mariano Barbosa.
12 He made just two appearances for the Spanish club, ironically struggling to settle because of the large numbers of Argentines at the club. He was farmed out to second division Recreativo Huelva and helped them to promotion.
13 So impressive was Valencia’s performances at the 2006 World Cup, he was in the running for young player of the tournament with Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and eventual winner Lukas Podolski. He was also spotted by Wigan boss Paul Jewell.
14 Paul Jewell: ‘I was scouting for Wigan at Poland v Ecuador and I thought I might see some Poles of interest — when you’re manager of Wigan you don’t expect to be scouting Ecuadoreans. But Ecuador won 2-0 and there was one player who stood out — Valencia. I liked his reading of the game. I was surprised he was only 20. His game was much more mature.’
15 Wigan paid Villarreal a £1.5million loan fee and he signed for one season. ‘He arrived on a Friday and we had a pre-season friendly on the Saturday,’ said Jewell. ‘Without having trained, he came on for 20 minutes and straight away the lads could see he was a player. And I liked him, we all did, he always came in smiling.’
Ready for battle: Valencia's greatest strength is his athleticism
16 Another mentor in his early days in England was Ulises de la Cruz, the former Aston Villa and Reading full back who was the trailblazer for Ecuadoreans in the Premier League. The pair used to speak up to three times a week. ‘He was invaluable,’ said Valencia.
17 When he first came to Europe, Valencia’s young family were still home in Ecuador. Jewell said: ‘He could easily have buckled but there was no moping in a hotel. Antonio, though his English was minimal, quickly got a house and a car. That self-reliance, which can be rare, impressed me.’
18 He used to attend English lessons with Hondurans Maynor Figueroa and Wilson Palacios before the latter’s move to Spurs. Manchester City’s Felipe Caicedo and Segundo Castillo of Everton joined them but Valencia still struggles with English and his written Spanish is limited. Steve Bruce, who inherited Valencia at Wigan, said: ‘He struggled with it, but it didn’t matter. You knew you could just put him on the pitch and he would pick it up.’
19 His loan period was extended into the following season before Wigan signed him on a three-and-a-half-year contract in January 2008.
20 Steve Bruce said: ‘He was the first one I made permanent when I took over as manager at Wigan. He was a very good player, a great kid, wonderful professional and tough as old nails. He has great pace and has added goalscoring to that at United, which he needed to add to his armoury. He was a delight to manage because he just gets on with his football and adores his family. He’s a great lad.’
Regular meetings: Birmingham's 'Chucho' Benitez
21 He meets regularly with ‘Chucho’ Benitez. Their friendship goes back to their teenage days together lining up for daily inspections in their army barracks. Benitez said: ‘I remember one day a trainer advised us to eat pasta and a lot of iron to keep fit, but Tono misunderstood. In South America pasta means sauce and it is also what they call toothpaste. The next day I find Valencia tucking in to a tube of Colgate.’
22 He scored seven goals in 83 appearances for Wigan and was particularly outstanding at Old Trafford in his side’s 2-0 defeat. But Manchester United were already on the case. Bruce said: ‘When the big boys are sniffing around every manager dreads getting the call. You know then what is going to happen.’
23 Dave Whelan (chairman of Wigan) said: ‘If every footballer was like Antonio, life would be wonderful. He is a quiet, clean-living, well-mannered young gentleman. When United and Real Madrid came in for him I told him straightaway. I promised all the South American lads that I would keep them informed when the big clubs came in. I did the same with Wilson Palacios. Real Madrid offered us more money but I advised him to go to United because I knew Sir Alex would look after him.’
24 Bruce is convinced he will be a hit for years at United. He said: ‘If you look at him he is a great age with 100 games under his belt. The big question was, could he make the step up to Manchester United and I think he has proved that he was ready.’
25 And Fergie? Sir Alex Ferguson is unstinting in his praise for Valencia. ‘He’s got great balance, power and speed,’ said the Scot. ‘He’s immediately taken to the challenge well and with purpose. We’re very pleased with what we’ve seen.’
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