Manchester United must decide within the next month whether to trigger Antonio Valencia’s contract extension. United have the option of an additional year on Valencia’s current deal but the deadline to trigger it is in March and the club captain has not played since January 2. United declined to comment to the MEN when asked whether they would extend Valencia’s contract. The MEN revealed last month Valencia, 33, is resigned to leaving United in the summer amid a loss of form and fitness issues. The club captain has started one Premier League game in the last five months and has only featured once under caretaker coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Solskjaer said on Tuesday Valencia was three weeks away from regaining fitness and the March internationals would mean the next match he is available to play is against Watford on March 30, by which time United will have decided the Ecuadorian’s fate. Although Solskjaer has downplayed his involvement in contractual negotiations and decisions, Valencia’s is a pressing issue he could advise on. Should United let Valencia leave on a free transfer he would become the first player whose plus one option was not exercised since executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward introduced the clause in 2013.
Two years ago, United announced they had activated Marouane Fellaini’s one-year contract extension as the deadline loomed in January 2017. Players are usually informed of the club’s decision to take up the plus-one option by post. Valencia is the oldest outfield member of United’s first-team squad and United recently negotiated a new one-year deal with fellow 33-year-old Ashley Young, who is effectively the squad’s main captain. Former United manager Jose Mourinho accused Valencia of enjoying ‘too much holiday’ that partially forced him to leave United’s pre-season tour of the United States after only two games. Although Solskjaer publicly praised Valencia at the start of his reign, he effectively relegated the him to fourth-choice right-back behind Young, Matteo Darmian and Diogo Dalot.
“Ashley’s wearing the armband, yes, because Antonio’s struggled with fitness as well, in and out,” Solskjaer explained last month. “Antonio’s still the club captain, but Ash is wearing the armband when he’s playing.”Three weeks ago, a downbeat Valencia shared a message from his father encouraging him to continue to work hard to make the Ecuador squad for this summer’s Copa America.
Valencia arrived in England to join Wigan in 2006 after a breakthrough World Cup in Germany. Sir Alex Ferguson signed the right winger for £16.5million in 2009 and, after sporadic outings at right-back under the Scot, Valencia was converted into a full-time right-back by Louis van Gaal in 2015. Despite a chastening 12 months under Mourinho and Solskjaer, Valencia has claimed two Premier League winner’s medals, won two League Cups in 2010 and 2017, as well as the 2016 FA Cup and 2017 Europa League with United. Valencia started in all four triumphant finals and was voted the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year by supporters for 2011-12.