Speaking ahead of his side’s game against Stoke City, Jose Mourinho bestowed quite an honour upon his first-choice right back, Antonio Valencia.
Since his sensational first Champions League win with Porto in 2004, ‘The Special One’ has spent over a decade at the helm of the game in Europe. He is therefore better placed than most to judge who belongs among football’s elite.
Marquee signings of his at Old Trafford such as Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic understandably hog the headlines, but on Friday, Mourinho saw fit to pay tribute to one of Manchester United’s unsung veterans in Antonio Valencia, placing him among the very best in the process.
“I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football,” Mourinho proclaimed via ManUtd.com in addressing Valencia’s contract extension which will see the Ecuadorian stay at the club until 2019.
“I don’t think it is a reward, I don’t see it in this perspective.
It is just for us to keep the best. I don’t think it is a reward. It is a privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man. Antonio is playing better than ever, I think. This season he is playing magnificently.”
Upon his arrival to the club in 2009, the 31-year-old was as a winger, and continued to use his pace and wicked right foot in that vein, eventually reverting to right-back when the likes of Rafael da Silva struggled to replace United legend Gary Neville.
In all, Valencia has made 271 appearances for the Red Devils, and won the club’s ‘Player of the Year’ award for the 2011-12 season.
Despite his impressive contribution, particularly this season, debate rages as to whether he’s even the best right-back in the Premier League at present, with Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne getting the nod in many combined starting XI’s when the two sides played recently. England’s Kyle Walker, who has played a starring role in Tottenham’s title charge, may also have something to say about Mourinho’s assessment.