Throughout history there have been sporting sides with members in it who are often an after thought or deemed to not be as important as others. The headlines following Barcelona’s Champions League tie with Manchester City largely centred around Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi but there would be a good argument to suggest that their goalkeeper Victor Valdes was as, if not more, important in the Catalan’s win.
It is not something that would bother Valdes though. Throughout his career at Barcelona he has played with some of the best players in the World and yet has remained an underrated cog in a very successful machine. Once his contract ends this summer he will leave his boyhood club for pastures new and will leave behind a huge void that is yet to be filled.
Over the last 12 seasons Valdes has been Barcelona’s undisputed number one keeper but for some reason is not held in the same regard as some of his peers. He was regarded as being too error prone at points in his career and was viewed as a weak link in the Barcelona line up. The fact that he is playing at the same time as Real Madrid and Spain International Iker Casillas has limited his opportunities on the national stage but fortunately his club have always ensured he has remained in the limelight.
One of the commonly forgotten aspects of Barcelona’s play is that the neat and tidy passing (tiki-taka) is primarily a defensive tactic. It is employed to demonstrate one of football’s fundamental objectives; if the opposition don’t have the ball they cannot score. As a result Barcelona monopolise possession in nearly every game which in theory means the keeper should be relatively quiet during most of their games.
However, those who have watched Barcelona will know that despite their awesome powers in attack they can often be exposed defensively. What has kept them in important games and ensured that they have been as successful as they have in recent times is down to Valdes.
On Tuesday night for example the Barcelona number one made three vital saves with the score at nil nil. Following the sending off of Demichelis the Catalan side ran out as comfortable winners but it could have been very different if it were not for Valdes. Every summer people question why Barcelona do not buy extra defensive cover and one reason is simply that most of the defenders around are either not good enough or lack the technical ability to adapt.
All of the Barcelona back five who started on Tuesday night are more comfortable in possession than most Premier League players. People who watch Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur will be familiar with how impressive David de Gea and Hugo Lloris are with the ball at their feet and it has become a vital part of a keeper’s skill set now. It is almost impossible to know how much of this has been a result of seeing Valdes playing for Barcelona but it is likely to have contributed.
For a side that enjoys so much possession his powers of concentration have been immense – especially when you consider the fact that he may not see the ball in his own half for long periods of play. He has always been a good shot stopper and possesses lightening quick reactions when faced one on one; his bravery and courage is something that has really stood out. He made crucial saves in all three of Barcelona’s European Cup triumphs and was integral to his side on every occasion.
Valdes appears to divide many on his overall quality but the evidence is all there to suggest he is one of the finest keepers in the world and has been for a number of years. His departure from his beloved Barcelona will be another tough blow for the club but he has behaved impeccably and continues to make an outstanding contribution on the pitch.
There are always those players who for whatever reason do not get the accolades they should and Valdes is certainly one of them. However, he has played a huge part in the history that Barcelona have made in recent times and his replacement will have very big boots to fill indeed.
Picture courtesy of Wikipedia