For the first time in four years we have selected a different player as Player of the Year. Our choice this year is Antonio Valencia. Valencia has been excellent this year and as with the winner in the previous three seasons, David de Gea, the decisive factor in our choice has been the consistency of his excellence. We considered a number of other players and the final decision was close, but Valencia has been so consistently strong that in the end the choice was easy. Jose Mourinho in fact at one point made the comment that Valencia was in his view the best right back in the world. That might be over stating it but he actually can’t be far away.

Other Contenders

Valencia has won the club’s official Players’ Player of the Year award and they of course are no bad judges, they will see him every day in training and will therefore be far more aware of his qualities than fans so we are comfortable with our choice and in selecting an alternative to the player who was selected as the fans player of the year.

That of course was Ander Herrera. Ander Herrera is a very popular player amongst United fans. He gets the club, perhaps as well as any player since Patrice Evra and it is perhaps his obvious dedication to the cause as well as the sense he exudes that playing for the club is a tremendous privilege which endears him to fans. There have been suggestions that he might be a future club captain and he would be an excellent choice for that role. Herrera is a hard working player, he has a tremendous engine and whilst he isn’t naturally quick he does things quickly. He is busy, a worker bee who always gives the maximum and will stick to the tactical game plan and his individual role within it. He is also an excellent foil to the more languid but far more accomplished Paul Pogba, but has he done well enough to be considered as player of the year. Ultimately not well enough and that is largely due to consistency. Herrera has been good consistently but perhaps not excellent consistently with too many games when he has not had a significant impact on the game.

The fact that David de Gea has been overlooked for the award should in no way be seen as a slight on the United keeper. As the season draws to a close there is again speculation about a potential move to Real Madrid. We would wish him to stay. United in our view have three players who are almost World Class and one who is. De Gea is World Class and the award going to someone else does not mean that his standards have slipped. De Gea has played to a level consistent with previous years, he is still an excellent shot stopper who makes a far percentage of saves he has no right to make and he is still good in one on ones.

He hasn’t developed further though with his weaknesses being his communication with those in front of him and distribution. For us he is still one of the top four keepers in the world.

The other players who we would consider to be almost World Class are Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic; both were in the running for the award.

We considered Zlatan and he was the player who ran Valencia closest and not only on the basis of his goal return but because of his impact upon the club and team. Zlatan’s goals were important but they were not a reflection of his overall performances. Zlatan has been a World Class player for years and although he may have dipped below that standard now his sense of himself has been important to United. Zlatan is a winner and his presence, his larger than life character was enough to lift the whole club so that whilst he is slower and less mobile than in days gone by and whilst he missed more chances than he would have missed in the past he made the club believe it would win.

If Paul Pogba isn’t a World Class player he is very close to being one. He took a while to settle on joining the club and he wasn’t perhaps helped by the fact that he has been consistently judged against the size of his transfer fee.

United need to build their team around Pogba and should concentrate on recruiting players whose skills compliment his. Pogba’s efforts this year have perhaps been somewhat undermined by the relative shortcomings of those around him. He was voted the most valuable player in the Europa League and played more passes and more forward passes than any other player in the Premier League. If those ahead of him had not been so profligate he would surely have recorded more assists than any Premier League player. Pogba is a star, strong, skilful he has time on the ball and an ability to control a game. When he has played well United have played well. Unfortunately he is another player who loses out to Valencia on consistency. We would not be surprised if he doesn’t win this award several times in the years ahead.

Antonio Valencia

So to Antonio Valencia, why chose him as Player of the Year?

Valencia joined the club as a winger, in fact he was signed as the replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 when he moved on to Real Madrid. That was always going to be a difficult act to follow and whilst Valencia gave it his best shot he ultimately came up short.

Valencia is a strong and powerful player wherever he is played and as a winger he was at his best running forcefully at people rather than beating a player with trickery. A pattern quickly emerged where if he started from a deeper position often receiving the ball whilst on the move his momentum and power would see him race past people and deliver a cross or shot whereas starting from a higher position and from a standing start he would recycle possession with a simple pass inside rather than take a man on. He cant beat a man from a standing start.

These key characteristics make him ideally suited to his newer role as an adventurous fullback. He has had to learn this role however and he struggled at times in the early days. He is not a natural defender but has now learned to defend so well that he is rarely caught out of position and after an injury plagued season in 2015-16 he has established himself as the first choice right back this year having made 27 Premier League starts which would surely have been a greater total but for a broken arm.

Antonio Valencia in action - an attacking fullback who judges exactly the right moment to surge forward

Antonio Valencia in action – an attacking fullback who judges exactly the right moment to surge forward

Jose Mourinho likes his fullbacks to get forward and offer attacking width and on the right where United do not currently have an obvious winger this is doubly important. Both Van Gaal and this year Jose have tended to play Jaun Mata on the right and he has generally tucked inside almost as a “false winger”. This movement inside has usually left space outside as the opponents fullbacks often tend to follow Mata inside hoping to prevent a more central overload, more often than not their tracking of Mata is half hearted as they are aware of the danger of Valencia moving forward into the space vacated. Valencia’s strength is that he seems to know the exact moment to surge into this space with his pace and momentum taking him past the defender. Mourinho has talked about Shaw needing to judge the moment to surge forward for himself on the pitch and how he cannot do Shaw’s thinking for him. Shaw suffers by comparison at the moment as Jose can rely of Valencia to make these judgement calls by himself.

The great thing about Valencia as a fullback is that his pace and his footballing judgement ensure that nowadays he hardly ever gets caught out of position, taking up his defensive place quickly whenever the ball is lost.

His weakness now is as it was in his days as a winger and that is that his crosses can be a disappointment. All too often his cross fail to beat the first man because he delays them or he fails to pick out a man, instead delivering into a general area. United have played with a single central striker for some time now so crosses need to be accurate. The other problem Valencia faces is that the ball out to him is often slow. This is a problem which isn’t of his own making of course, but if the pass is delayed or inaccurate the momentum is lost. Momentum is the key with Valencia as was evidenced in the Europa League final where an early accurate pass from Fellaini gave him a chance to run from deep into space and surge past Riedewald to sting Onana hands with a rasping shot.

Antonio Valencia - Europa League winner

Antonio Valencia – Europa League winner

Such has been Valencia’s consistent excellence this season that on occasions when Wayne Rooney has been absent from the side Jose Mourinho has seen fit to make him the on field captain. That is an honour richly deserved. Valencia has had an excellent season and so he is the player of the year. Antonio Valencia, take a bow. Players of the Year

2016-17 Antonio Valencia

2015-16 David de Gea

2014-15 David de Gea

2013-14 David de Gea

2012-13 Michael Carrick