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Mariano Ortiz  in London, England
Latinos in London  on 2012-06-01


Antonio Valencia, England's Ecuadorian Warrior

Manchester United and Ecuador football star Luis Antonio Valencia Mosquera is 26 years old (born 4 August 1985), but laughs like a child when reminiscing upon two places: Vereda Tropical -his home neighbourhood in Lago Agrio- and the Carlos Vernaza stadium. Whenever he has free time from his Premier League commitments, he travels to his native Sucumbíos or loses himself in the suburbs of Quito. When the Red Devils warrior was a child, his house was made of wood and barely stood one floor tall. This was where his parents, Luis Antonio and Teresa, with children Alfredo, Éder, "Toñito" and Jazmina raised the modern-day South American sporting idol to greatness.

"My childhood was very happy. My dad worked hard and all of us did what we could to ensure there was food on our table". And those were the facts: Luis Antonio senior had a bottle re-selling depository and his three sons helped him cover the entire city and surrounding villages in search of glass containers which were then sold in Quito.

Doña Teresa also had her own business; she sold handbags, arazá juice and other refreshments to combat the intense heat outside the Carlos Vernaza Stadium, the temple of the football players of Lago Agrio. When "Toñito" was a child and fame was a mere fantasy in his life, the Carlos Vernaza was a patch of earth, covered with fine stones, where on a daily basis footballers of all walks of life gave their all for matches in which Sucres betted were the only money that could be won. He and his mother rushed to secure sales to them immediately after matches and find change in local shops when required, while nowadays, Antonio sprints in order to anticipate rivals and unleash devastating counter-attacks across England and Europe.

The Ecuadorian is the latest player to wear United's iconic number seven shirt; previously used by the likes of David Beckham, Eric Cantona and George Best, having established himself as one of Sir Alex Ferguson's most potent attacking weapons since his arrival at Old Trafford in the summer of 2009.

His transfer to United curtailed a three-year stint at Wigan Athletic, where he had attracted manager Paul Jewell's interest with a series of impressive performances in central midfield in Ecuador's campaign at the
 2006 World Cup. In his three seasons at Wigan, Valencia made 83 appearances, scoring seven times and catching the eye of several bigger clubs. Antonio turned down the chance to join Real Madrid, but couldn't resist the opportunity to move to Old Trafford in the summer of 2009.

Hopes that a superb maiden season could be replicated were dashed when he suffered an horrific ankle injury in United's Champions League draw with Rangers in September 2010. However, Valencia made a breath-taking return to fitness and form within six months. He played a key role as the Reds regained the Premier League title - making him a league champion for the first time - and he ended a topsy-turvy campaign with fittingly mixed emotions, starting his first Champions League final but tasting defeat against Barcelona.

Valencia's third season at Old Trafford proved his most eye-catching, as a glut of assists took United to within a whisker of a 20th league title, and his personal excellence was rewarded with a clean sweep at the club's end-of-season awards bash, where he picked up the fans' and players' player of the year gongs as well as the goal of the season award.

Michael Owen's departure in the summer of 2012 gave Antonio the chance to inherit the Reds' famous number seven shirt.

An Ecuadorian Ambassador Abroad

It is of no surprise when many a British fan reveals Antonio Valencia is the reason why they know where Ecuador is on a world map, what colours its flag bears and even the fact Spanish is spoken there, for, if anything, examples like Valencia’s, of tenacity, talent and dedication propelling a sporting great out of a lesser-known country to the UK public and into the dizzy heights of idolisation by Manchester United supporters across Britain are what breaking barriers towards cultural integration are all about. And what a perfect ambassador he has been; considering someone of whom excellence with the ball at his feet is all that is initially expected in football, Antonio has shown qualities far beyond sport that have eternally endeared him to the British footballing public.

Former United player Quinton Fortune says of Valencia: “Antonio has been unbelievable since he came back. He has been the man of the match for United in the last three matches and is getting his rewards for all the work he has done to get fit. But the thing about Antonio is that he is so quiet. He is a bit like Paul Scholes in that respect; comes in, trains and goes home, back to the quiet life. Even when he scores, he doesn’t celebrate. But he does win games, that is why the boss rates him so highly and respects him as much as any other heavy-weight in the United setup.”

Valencia suffered a horror ankle injury last season, but returned to play a key role in the run-in to United’s record 19th title. Sir Alex Ferguson proved just how highly he regards the 26-year-old by selecting him ahead of Nani to start the Champions League final against Barcelona.

Wayne Rooney is one of his chief supporters, saying: “Antonio has been playing brilliantly. He is back to his best and when he is like that he is so difficult to defend against. It is great for the forwards because he is so good at delivering the ball into the box quickly.

Awards and Accolades

2011/2012 Player of the Season            2011/2012 Fan's Player                           2011/2012 Goal of the Season

             

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