Down to earth, magnanimous and a true worker – that’s everything that defines the 25 year-old Manchester United winger, Luis Antonio Valencia, who boasts a track record of zero controversies.
As a footballer, Valencia is a special talent. His approach towards the game is so natural and positive that it has attracted attention from likes of Paul Scholes and Lionel Messi. His runs at the defenders are perfectly balanced like a ballerina and so is his decision making. His life is perfect for some, but not many know what he’d been through as a kid.
Valencia was born on 4 August 1985 in Nueva Loja, Ecuador, which is located in the Amazon rainforest. His family was a big one. He had five elder brothers and one sister. They had a massive financial constraints. Valencia helped his mother sell drinks outside the stadium of his local club at Lago Agrio and would then search for empty bottles in the stadium and nearby streets for his father to sell to a bottle-deposit in the capital, Quito.
Valencia used to play barefoot on the pitch next to the bungalow he shared with his parents, five brothers and sister. When Valencia was aged 11, a scout named Papi Perlaza spotted him playing on a dusty field near his home. He was so impressed by him that he rushed towards him and stopped him while playing. The very next day, he signed him to the local FA-run sports academy in Sucumbíos.
At the age of 16, Valencia didn’t tell his father he left home to take up an offer to play for El Nacional, a military club in Quito. Nobody knew about Valencia’s decision except his mother and his elder brother, who paid the fare for his rugged eight-hour bus journey. This marked the beginning of Valencia’s professional career. He started out as a central midfielder and on a salary of $50 a month.
After progressing through the youth system at El Nacional, Valencia became a first-team regular before signing for La Liga side Villarreal CF in 2005, but was later loaned to Premier League club Wigan Athletic from 2006 to 2008. Wigan later signed Valencia on a three-year deal in January 2008.
His performances for Wigan soon attracted attention from several high-profile clubs and he turned down a move to Real Madrid before signing for Manchester United in June 2009. Valencia has since won the Football League Cup, FA Community Shield and the Premier League during his time at Manchester United, along with being voted into the PFA Team of the Year. This year he was awarded with the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year honour.
His story is filled with struggle and despair, but as of now, he is floating around on that right wing in that Gingham red jersey, tucked in as always, with 7 on his back.