On the cusp of springtime, talk turns to who the player of the year may be. A repetitive topic, most are too kind to dwell on who the worst player of the year is. There is no official recipient of football's equivalent of the Razzies, which is just as well for Manchester United's egregious right-winger Antonio Valencia, who has gone as far backwards as his on-pitch runs this season.
Introduced for the injured Nani midway through the first-half of Sunday's FA Cup tie with Chelsea, the Old Trafford crowd showed restraint in not emitting a loud groan. Valencia looked petrified of Ashley Cole and has looked just as tentative when facing inferior left-backs this campaign. His United career should be in jeopardy, only the issues with the squad's wingers place him in a relatively cushy position.
Ashley Young is unliked and unconvincing and Nani, despite his recent return to the first-team fold, seems destined to depart the club this summer. Wilfried Zaha, he of the #TeamJesus hashtag and of the opinion he is the third best player in the world, will arrive in the summer.
Valencia didn't impress against Chelsea
Yet if a winger should be jettisoned by Sir Alex Ferguson then it is Valencia. Aside from a soaring run at Anfield and the opening quarter of an hour at Chelsea in October, he has embraced his role as eagerly as a commuter has the snow this week; trotting outside gingerly and caught in two minds, before making a decision only to stall.
Ferguson said Valencia asked for the number seven shirt in the summer after the club finally removed perma-crock Michael Owen from the wage bill. Valencia was, dubiously, named the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year by supporters for the 2011-12 campaign when Michael Carrick was a more consistent performer, so the move was well received.
Seven hasn't meant heaven for Valencia and the post-Ronaldo curse has continued. In his first two seasons, he performed progressively. A limited winger, the Ecuadorian was a key factor as a substitute in United's thrilling 4-3 Manchester derby victory in only his seventh game for the club and was man of the match in the 2010 League Cup final victory. A broken leg later that year sidelined him for six months, only he exceeded expectations and immediately became a vital cog in the club's Treble quest in 2011.
Ferguson purred over Valencia's impact at West Ham in a 4-2 comeback win a month after his return, opining the winger "had them on toast". Back then, Valencia was likened to cult hero Andrei Kanchelskis; another right-footed winger who roared past full-backs like a Porsche leaving a Mini in its wake. Valencia now moves as gracefully as a lorry.
It's not been seven heaven for Valencia
His frame is an issue. Always a physical winger, he seems to have bulked up too much and has lost his zip, although it is difficult to pinpoint when exactly he lost his confidence.
That winning goal he lashed in at Blackburn last year - a seemingly significant moment as United homed in on a 20th title - may have started the rot. Twenty days later, up against the cumbersome Sylvain Distin, he seemed unwilling to take on the Frenchman and was dropped for the team's cowardly defeat at City the next week. Against Reading last month, Ferguson's assistant Mike Phelan could be heard bellowing "Take him on," as Valencia made a rare run down the touchline. Should he need to be told?
Valencia inexplicably began the current season at right-back away to Everton but Ferguson cannot be held accountable for his player's dreadful form since. The Scot has been generous with Valencia but it is apparent something drastic has to happen if the 27-year-old is to become an asset to his side again. The grim reality is he is having a poorer season than Eric Djemba-Djemba and is a worse United number seven than the shambolic Owen.