Earlier this week, Manchester United fans greeted the news that their club is set to offer contract extensions to full-backs Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia with understandable bemusement.
Valencia is technically club captain at the moment, though a fall-out with manager Jose Mourinho and an injury layoff means he’s barely made it onto the pitch this season, let alone worn the armband. His form has dropped off considerably since this time two seasons.
Like Valencia, Young is 33, and though his form earned him an England recall last year, and he’s acquitted himself well against players like Eden Hazard and Mohamed Salah, but he’s surely not being viewed as a long-term solution at either full-back position.
Pep Guardiola may have led Manchester City to a Premier League title with Fabian Delph at left-back, but that’s far from sustainable – as Guardiola himself acknowledges by making Benjamin Mendy first-choice whenever the Frenchman is fit.
The year is 2036. Manchester City have just won their 16th title. Salford are in the Premier League. West Ham have been kicked out of the Olympic Stadium. Leeds still haven’t got promoted— Sibs 🔰 (@SibsMUFC) November 12, 2018
51 yr old Ashley Young & Antonio Valencia sign 1 year contract extensions at Manchester Utd
Already, Young has been pushed down to second-choice left-back, and though Valencia’s injury has given him a chance to play him on the opposite flank instead, Mourinho brought in a young right-back this summer in Diogo Dalot.
If both kick on as expected, Luke Shaw and Dalot are not just the future at full-back for United – they’re players for right now. Dalot looked impressive in the few appearances he made before his injury, and Shaw is finally beginning to fulfill the potential he’s always had.
At the moment, in Young, Valencia, and Matteo Darmian, United have three players who wouldn’t be first-choice at any leading team in Europe. And even keeping in mind that Shaw and Dalot need back-ups, should those players be fall-back options in case of injury or loss of form, or players who actually challenge the two youngsters and push them to new heights?
Look at the case of Real Madrid. Dani Carvajal established himself as one of the world’s best right-backs by 2016-17, but then seemed to stagnate last season. Academy product Achraf Hakimi was promoted to the first team, then Alvaro Odriozola was brought in this summer as Hakimi was sent out on loan. Carvajal knows there’s a threat to his place.
Is Shaw going to feel similarly with the retention of Young and Valencia? Hardly. And though the 19-year-old Dalot may still benefit from a veteran presence, even he should be looking to nail down a spot in the regular starting XI soon after returning from injury, if given enough chances. At which point, Young and Valencia will become redundant. Playing them in United’s cup sides would be denying opportunities that could be going to academy products, and they’ll barely have anything to offer Shaw and Dalot.
Nor is there a case to keep them purely because they’ve been “loyal servants” to the club. If Wayne Rooney was allowed to leave the club just months after setting its new all-time goals record, having won five Premier League titles, one FA Cup medal, and one Champions League trophy, at the age of 31 – younger than both Valencia and Young – there’s little justification in offering the two players new contracts.
Both may be well-liked by the rest of the players, but neither is a Gary Neville or Michael Carrick-type figure, commanding respect as an elder statesman. And United have players like Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, and David de Gea who can take up the leadership mantle, among others.
Extending the contracts of Young and Valencia speaks to the stagnation that United have been enduring since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. The legendary manager knew the value of experience, of course, but he never kept players around longer than they were needed. Wes Brown and John O’Shea, perhaps the closest examples from the latter-day Fergie teams to Valencia and Young, were allowed to leave despite the contributions they’d made to the club during lengthy and decorated spells.
Manchester United open talks with Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia over contract extensions. They have been good, in parts, over the last few years, but if the club have ambitions of being at the top once more, they need to start being ruthless.— Liam Canning (@LiamPaulCanning) November 12, 2018
This United’s senior duo have also won their fair share and have plenty of experience. But is that enough to keep them in Manchester United shirts? If they’re still a club with ambitions to return to the top table, the answer should be no.
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