September 14, 2010. Antonio Valencia goes down to an innocuous challenge in United’s game against Rangers in the Champions League, and stays down. He cannot continue, and has to be stretchered off. Later, it is discovered that his ankle is both fractured and dislocated with ligament damage to add to it. He’s likely to miss the rest of the season.
Six months later, he’s back on the football pitch, as fit as ever and hasn’t lost any of his blistering pace. Back in September if you’d told me that Valencia would be back before the end of the season, I might have thought you were a bit soft in the head. Now, seeing him up and running again, I realize that his early and successful comeback shouldn’t really surprise me as much as it did. It’s all down to Sir Alex Ferguson and his never-ending, almost rabid desire to win.
As Henry Winter rightly says in his article (see below) Ferguson is a true fighter. A hard man who never gives up and more importantly, makes sure his players don’t either. Valencia could well have resigned himself to his fate and taken it relatively easy, only to return next season. But the winning mentality is so deeply ingrained in the Man United spirit, it is second nature to everyone at the club. Even in the past, players have returned from serious injuries to find themselves in the first team, playing regularly. It is no less than what Ferguson expects of them, fighting back when they’re down to work their way back to the top. I remember when Alan Smith suffered that horrendous double injury against Pool back in 2006. Little over a year later, he was back on the pitch, being typically no-nonsense and scoring against Roma in THAT magical 7-1 performance!
As recently as last season, Wayne Rooney picked up the ankle knock against Bayern Munich and was ruled out for the remainder of the season. A fortnight later, the mere sight of him warming up was enough to make the Bayern team collectively wet themselves and send the United fans into a tizzy! THAT is what I’m talking about, that desperate urge to get back out there and perform. To hammer that into the psyche if a team, SAF is second to none. His sheer will to succeed filters through the club and the team and he makes it happen. One way or another. It is precisely this spirit that has garnered him those 11 league titles and all the other countless accolades through his illustrious managerial career.
Now, after Nani was ruled out till the Bolton game this weekend, he might be coming back against Marseille tonight. And this time, I’m not surprised. It is the never-say-die mentality by which he has willed it to happen, less than 10 days after his leg was ripped open. Fantastic stuff indeed!
My only worry is whether or not this indomitable spirit will linger on once Sir Alex finally calls it a day.