Antonio Valencia has mastered the art of the stutter
It was two years ago that this very site did something bold. Bold isn’t always good, though. No, this bit of boldness was met with collective displeasure — we’d only gone and drawn parallels with Antonio Valencia’s style of football with that of … Garrincha’s. Alegria do Povo, himself. The iconic Brazilian. Pelé’s mate.
“Without Garrincha,” Pelé once said, “I would never have been a three times world champion.” And so you’d understand the reaction . You wouldn’t dare compare the two. It’s a complete mismatch. Or is it? Why must we conform and measure a player against another by what they’ve achieved? By how good they are/were? Because similarities can exist elsewhere — in this case, it’s in style and approach.
Gradually, people noticed. A year after the original piece, Run of Play ran with a piece titled ‘Alegria‘. They had noticed:
“With the viscosity of helium gas he glides the ball with the outside of his foot on to his stronger right side. The poor defender (maybe two at this point) with “broken ankles” can only stumble and stagger. Space is now abundant. The music has intensified. Valencia can deliver the service as he wishes—a laser toward a darting pea across the box or a tasty treat to a drifting bulldog back post …”
“… I have seen these moves before in grainy black and white videos of the ‘Alegria do Povo’.”
The Gabriel Obertans of the world will tell you that video footage is misleading. It is — but for many too young — or not old enough — to have seen Garrincha, it is enough. It is impossible to make an intelligent isolated inference about a player’s quality just from them, yes; but very possible to recognise an individual’s style. Indeed, Garrincha had style in abundance.
Garrincha is still a one-off. Antonio Valencia is not him and would never reach the heights of the man commonly regarded as one of the greatest to have played the game — but what Valencia has managed to do, at least, is evoke memories of the Brazilian. He doesn’t need to be as good, you see. Because you’d imagine that there are few right now, and few over the years, to have played the way Garrincha did. Valencia, it seems, is our Garrincha-lite and, if this isn’t pushing it, the closest we’ll ever get to seeing the two-time World Cup winner live.
The similarities are there. In battle, the touchline his trench, he is booming quietly, jerking one way or the other and just happening to find space where there is none; bamboozling the defender to the point where reinforcements are called; and then bamboozling the defender and his reinforcement and then the reinforcement’s reinforcement to the point where the opposition can do nothing but hold up a metaphorical white flag. He rarely fails to emerge victorious; every time he takes someone on, he is inflicting gradual pain that affects the physical and mental state of a player.
His stutter, a sort of half-dribble, Garrincha-esque and all, is just phase one. Phase two is the drop of the shoulder and three, well, the sort of thing he showed against Blackburn Rovers in the recent 2-0 win; the low cross for Javier Hernandez which nearly crept in from the post or, better yet, that fully-intentional wondergoal. He is frighteningly efficient.
There was something raw about that goal at Ewood Park. Picking the ball up from Rafael on the right flank, Valencia a recluse in what is virtually his second home, he carried it, with his head strictly looking up, before allowing himself a brief stutter which not only helps confuse the staggering defender, but allows himself a momentary pause in which he can judge a situation. From there, space is created — as noted by the excerpt above — and with a beastly whoosh of his right foot, saw Paul Robinson beaten as the Ecuadorian defied the most acute of angles. On first viewing, it looked like a bit of luck. On second viewing, it just looked like Antonio Valencia being Antonio Valencia.
There are those fascinating individuals who we hold close because what they do is so special that they make it less about the team effort. And it is when they do something we could never imagine that we feel most satisfied, our affection greater in process. Valencia is one of them. They tell you football is a game played by eleven, not one, but what is this sport, like the chocolate selection box you feel guilty for constantly treating yourself to, if you haven’t got your favourites? Valencia is the caramel hazelnut.
That stutter before the storm … oh yes.