By Paul Morrissey, in Madrid – Follow on Twitter here
Ever since Victor Valdes announced his decision to see out his contract and walk away from Barça at the end of next season, this was always likely: his exit’s been fast-tracked to this summer.
Relations were always going to sour over the timing and way he announced it.
Just as if a civil servant told their boss they were leaving in 2 years, it’s unlikely he’d be afforded the good grace to see out his contract. Same rules apply to football.
He’s now unshackled from the Barça doctrine, free to do and say as he pleases. A threat to the system. A deinstitutionalised renegade they could do without, corrupting the youth and arousing the docile lifers. If you’re going, be gone.
So after 10 years of service between the Barça sticks, Valdes is making an unceremonious exit through the back door. Not pushed exactly, directed towards the door and invited to walk through it (the feeling’s mutual; he seems like he can’t get the fuck out of Dodge soon enough). Though in keeping with the general apathy afforded him, the door will be left locked and he’ll be forced to go through the catflap, only to get a sly kick in the ass as he squirms through for good measure.
Because behind the pretext of wanting to see the world and discover new cultures (what’s the culture of Monte Carlo? Tax evasion?), Victor Valdes’ decision to leave Barcelona is about recognition; the lack of it.
‘‘Valdes is the ideal keeper for Barça’’ – Tito Vilanova, January 2013
Stack ‘em up. Record 5-times Zamora winner (goalkeeping equivalent of the Pichichi), 3-time Champions League winner (equalled only by Ajax’s Heinz Stuy and Bayern’s Sepp Maier, though the former never won an international cap, and the latter suffered the original Panenka), 6 Liga titles. The fourth most capped player in Barça’s history.
But for all the praise sent his way, you’d swear he was a poor man’s Ruud Hesp, or a vulgar imitation of Carles Busquets. His ‘haters’ have it that all that’s a matter of circumstance; that he just so happened to be there. Right place at the right time; a freeloader bunking a ride on the rollercoaster of the world’s best ever indigenous generation.
They fail to comprehend the singular contribution made by Valdes to this Barça era. And much as Zubi wants to move swiftly on, with talk of Ter Stegen, Guaita, or even Reina (seriously?) replacing him, deep down he knows. He knows that Valdes will never really be replaced. Because this ‘average’ keeper revolutionised the role. Mes Que Un Portero.
The Valdes Paradox
Valdes is prone to the occasional gaffe, but name me a ‘keeper who isn’t. Comes with the territory.
All the more so in the case of the Double V : there’s simply no other ‘keeper in the land who plays such a high-risk, high-stakes game, a game Pep Guardiola more or less thrust upon him as a non-negotiable change. It was a task many would have baulked at, others walked at; Valdes accepted the challenge no questions asked.
Pep released him from the caterpillar cocoon of mere goalkeeper, gave him wings and evolved him into a sweeper-keeper butterfly. No more a reactive shot stopper, he was expected to step up 10 yards to the edge of his sanctuary and dictate play, as a proactive sweeper. A diversifying trapeze act that most ‘keepers could do without. Valdes took to the role seamlessly, laying the ball out left foot- right foot, becoming so comfortable on the ball as to often have more touches of it than opposing midfielders. In street terms, he became essentially a fly ‘keeper; an auxiliary defender who could use his hands.
With such a high risk game came an inevitable trade-off, as the mistakes became more frequent the more ingrained he became with the role.
There’ve been the footwork mistakes, like the fastest Clasico goal ever offered to Benzema last season; but also the handling ones, like the one offered to Drogba in the 2012 Champions League semi-final.
Not to mention the kamikaze aerial salidas, once knocking Dame N’Doye’s tongue down his throat, and forcing his own teammate Pique off last season.
The handling errors were an inevitable consequence of the increased toque demands placed upon him; while he also probably came to believe his hype, spending more and more time playing Rondas at training than working on the more rudimentary aspects of the trade.
But then there’s also the context of Barça to consider: he often had so little to do as a traditional keeper that he could have been forgiven for bringing a good book, Rubik’s cube or an impossible bottle along to games to keep himself occupied.
As Manuel Neuer said recently, it’s fucking boring being a ‘keeper; but to be Barça ‘keeper should carry a health warning: ‘may cause narcolepsy’. The chances of making mistakes were always going to be increased in those conditions.
Because before his evolution, Valdes was a pretty solid keeper. Paris ’06 is a Tale of Two Keepers: Lehmann sent off for Arsenal; Valdes (almost) unbeatable in the Barça goal; known as the Valdes Final by some. That’s the Valdes Paradox: the more important, essential even he became to the Pep Team, the less recognition he got. The irony is that had Pep hypothetically never asked (told) him to evolve into a sweeper-keeper, he could have gone on become one of the best traditional ‘keepers in the world.
So it’s off to Monaco, where he’ll have to relearn some of the basics, and say ‘adios’ to the toque.
For Barça, it’s a case of don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.
For Valdes, it’s so long, you’ll miss me when I’m gone.