It appears as if 2013 is shaping up to be one of the more memorable, if not unpredictable, years in football thus far. A little over a month since the Christmas festivities have concluded and there’s still a surprise every other week. After months of speculation FC Bayern Munich caught everybody off-guard when the Bavarian giants announced that Pep Guardiola would become their next manager.

Inter Milanai??i??s desire to rid themselves of Wesley Sneijder, or rather his massive wages, has seen the Italian club accept a cut-price ai??i??7.5m for his services from Turkish side Galatasaray. The transfer of the Dutchman to the Turkish side is unexpected to say the least. A little over 18 months ago he was courted by Manchester United, who were put off by his outrageous wage demands. ai???What if?ai??? must be one of the more popular phrases in the Sneijder household these days.

Also belonging to the category of surprising developments is Chelsea FCai??i??s steadfast faith in Fernando Torres. The Spaniard is still afforded precious playing time when game-winning goals come at a premium. Lost amidst these stories has been Victor Valdesai??i?? decision to not renew his contract with FC Barcelona beyond the 2013/14 campaign. Let that sink in. The Catalan stalwart, who has been a mainstay between the sticks for over a decade now, made up his mind to leave the familiar shores of Catalunya, July 2014 at the very latest.

Though one of the more divisive FC Barcelona players, perhaps just behind Sergio Busquets, Victor Valdes has firmly established himself as one of the best keepers in the history of the club. Looking at his accomplishments, heai??i??s certainly the most decorated goalkeeper BarAi??a have ever had.

Supernova Messi

In a side that features some of the best players in the world, if not of all-time, itai??i??s easy to overlook the contributions of Victor Valdes. Xavi, according to many, the greatest Spanish player of all-time, began receiving the plaudits once Ronaldinho and Deco departed from the club. Andres Iniesta would be the very first name on any squad sheet except perhaps Cristiano Ronaldai??i??s Real Madrid, but even thatai??i??s debatable. Still, any valuable contribution, big or small, is almost rendered obsolete when one shares the dressing-room with Lionel Messi. While Xavi and Andres Iniesta might be superstars in their own right, Lionel Messi is a supernova that outshines everything and everybody. When even the duo of Xavi and Iniesta can be overlooked and underappreciated, where does that leave keeper Victor Valdes?

Sure, Victor Valdes has made his fair share of errors during the course of his Blaugrana career. But then again, who hasnai??i??t? The casual football consumer is inclined to believe that being a keeper for FC Barcelona is a rather boring enterprise. The Blaugrana usually monopolize possession in any given game, to the tune of almost 70 percent, sometimes they even exceed that ridiculous number. To break it down, FC Barcelonaai??i??s share equates to roughly 63 minutes of possession. Hence, for a little over an hour Victor Valdes is practically doing nothing, or so the logic goes.

It would be a huge discredit to Victor Valdes to imply that heai??i??s only called into action for a little under half an hour. FC Barcelonaai??i??s style of play is expansive going forward, mesmerizing even, but the high defensive line the Blaugrana employ, invite counter-attacks. Unlike, say, Lionel Messi, who sometimes appears to be not fully in the game, Valdes cannot allow himself to relax. Heai??i??s literally on the edge for 90 minutes plus overtime.

Being a keeper is probably more mind over matter than pure athleticism. At 1.83m, Victor Valdes is a relatively short keeper. Yet he has performed admirably in aerial challenges against forwards who are physically superior to him. But his real strength lies in 1-on-1ai??i??s with the opponent. Thatai??i??s what his strong suit is. He keeps calm under pressure and makes the right call when to charge for the ball and when to stay on the line. His distribution of the ball is also rather under-appreciated. Of course Valdes has misplaced a pass or two, but it takes a special kind of player to keep on passing rather than blasting the ball into the stands when an opponent is turbocharging for him. Some midfielder wouldnai??i??t even dare to ask for the ball in areas Valdes has been forced to deal with them, with his feet mind you.

He regularly faces top class opposition with FC Barcelona in La Liga and the Champions League yet thereai??i??s probably only one player who has figured him out ai??i?? Cristiano Ronaldo. Thatai??i??s the one player who gives him the runaround. Then again, who hasnai??i??t been tormented by Cristiano Ronaldo?

Besides, during his Manchester United days the Portuguese failed to score against Victor Valdes. He just started getting the better of him once JosAi?? Mourinho entered the fray and refined Real Madrid into the best counter-attacking side on the planet.

FC Barcelonaai??i??s center-backs usually hover around the halfway line, meaning thereai??i??s a whole lot of space to exploit to behind them. Itai??i??s a recipe for disaster when facing a player with Ronaldoai??i??s technical and physical attributes. Some are fast but technically inapt, while some possess the technique but not the pace. Ronaldo has both.

In defense of Victor Valdes, Lionel Messi has skinned Iker Casillas, possibly the worldai??i??s greatest keeper, and Real Madrid, ever since he was barely legal, regardless of who was in charge of FC Barcelona.

Victor Valdes – Best goalkeeper suited to the Barcelona style

It all adds to the fact that Victor Valdes is hugely under-appreciated. There arenai??i??t many upgrades on the La Masia graduate apart from the aforementioned Iker Casillas. Not everyone is suited to play for FC Barcelona. FC Bayern Munichai??i??s Manuel Neuer may be a commanding presence but could he maintain his concentration levels when heai??i??s not called into action for over an hour? Itai??i??s debatable.

It stands to reason that a keeper is more focused when heai??i??s busy from the kick-off. Being sharp mentally when one is not, is a different matter altogether.One of the names linked with a return to the Camp Nou is Pepe Reina, mostly due to his La Masia upbringing. There was a time when Reina was superior to Victor Valdes, but not anymore. Valdes has firmly cemented his place as genuine Blaugrana legend. Time will tell whether heai??i??s the greatest Blaugrana keeper ever, but heai??i??s going to be a tough act to follow nonetheless.

Replacing Victor Valdes is one of the more daunting tasks FC Barcelonaai??i??s director of football Andoni Zubizarreta will have to deal with. Itai??i??s ironic since Valdes can be considered the true heir to Zubizaretta, as the Blaugrana went through something of a prolonged trial and error phase finding his replacement.

In a way things have come full circle again.

***

Written by guest author Adi-Oula Sebastian. He is regular contributor to The Sabotage Times, Soccerlens and Fun Guide To Football Culture. You can find him on Twitter @JubeiKibagame

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