Just how well do people really know Victor Valdes?
Valdes is rarely thrust into the spotlight but after his showing in Paris on Tuesday night that’s where he firmly was. Two superb stops, not world class, but massively important in the context of the game and timing of them. First up was Franck Ribery being denied one-on-one low down, then Patrice Evra at the death, denied by a fine point blank save. Valdes let out his customary roar and smashed his gloves together and, on an emotional night for the Spanish team, it was a significant outpouring.
The saves were met by some with surprise, but others had seen it all before. Andres Iniesta was one of them – the other was El Pais remarking that Double V was always there for the big occasions. They’re not wrong either – the European Cup Final against Arsenal springs to mind, as does against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, though other events overshadowed that display. After the former, Thierry Henry remarked of his hatred, of course joking, for Valdes, and how he’d made it ‘impossible to score’.
His achievements and form with Barcelona has been startlingly consistent, and yet it has gone relatively understated. Perhaps much due to the notion anyone can be a Barcelona goalkeeper, and that it’s easiest job in the world. Another one of those ludicrous suggestions that are tagged to the Catalan side, see: Lionel Messi would be poor in any other team, Pep Guardiola had this team ready made for him and anyone could manage them and so on. Each claim, more ridiculous than the next.
Valdes’ reputation amongst those who follow him closely remains impeccable, much due to the dedication he’s shown to the cause and the development of his game. The ability to use his feet and offer an outlet as an outfield player, awareness to the movement of one football’s most fluid defences and most importantly awareness to events on the field.
For long spells Valdes is relatively inactive, perhaps only playing the odd pass or two through the defence, but when he’s called upon his reactions must be precise. On many occasions Barca are exposed to the counter attack like few other teams are, such is the focus on smothering opponents in an attacking capacity. Switching on like that, and remaining involved in the game, is harder than it sounds.
Five Zamora trophies are testament to his contribution, while his international caps – Tuesday was his 13th – don’t truly represent just how impressive he has been for so long. Iker Casillas has always blocked his way, with Valdes unfortunate to be the same generation as one of Spain’s greatest ever goalkeepers. His relationship with Casillas has always been excellent though, they regard each other as friends as well as colleagues, while the Real Madrid man even defended his opposite number after a rare error in a meeting between their respective teams.
The announcement that he would be leaving Barcelona and not renewing his contract caused a stir and rightly so. Although he may not be Messi, Xavi or Iniesta, it happens to be that Valdes brings so much to the table at Camp Nou. When the summer comes and Barca address their business, instead of chasing Neymar around, persuading Valdes to stay should be top of the agenda. The day will come to replace him of course, but at 31 he still has much to give and will continue to do so. Whatever you do, don’t be surprised when he does.