Wearing the number seven jersey for Manchester United puts you in some pretty serious company. Folks like George Best, Bryan Robson, David Beckham, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo. Do the math on these dudes! Legend status. These are some of the most iconic players over the years and they all wore the number seven jersey for Manchester United. To celebrate that number and the legends that have worn it, Nike introduced their new Seven Collection which we introduced you to yesterday.
Now today we have an interview with the current number seven, Antonio Valencia. Antonio has some big boots to fill by donning the seven jersey and he is doing all that he can to ensure he gets that number seven legend status. The last man to wear the jersey, Crsitiano Ronaldo, returns to Old Trafford today for the first time which is going to be bananas on principle. And with his return minutes away, we hear from Antonio Valencia on the importance of the number seven jersey, on those that have worn it before him and the pressures that come with it.
Q: How aware were you of the significance of the number 7 shirt when Sir Alex Ferguson allocated to you at the beginning of the season?
A: Yes, it means a lot. When I arrived at United I was already aware of exactly what the number 7 shirt stood for here, because we all know that many legendary players have passed through the club and worn that shirt, players who were almost larger than life. So I was pretty clued up about it and it’s a shirt that’s really made a huge impact at this club.
Q: What makes it so special?
A: You can almost say that it’s different to the other shirts worn by the other players. It’s a shirt that needs to be worn by a player who is maybe that little bit different, individuals if you like. That’s how I see it anyway. I’d say it has to be someone special who wears that shirt because it is a little different.
Q: Does it have to belong to a player with a particular style or character?
A: I think so, definitely. You can see that pretty much all of the players who have worn the shirt have gone on to become legends at this club. I’m just hoping that I can do something similar!
Q: What is it that unites the great number 7s?
A: You could say it’s the winning mentality, the mentality of a champion, always wanting to win and having that hunger for trophies. Take David Beckham, he wore that shirt for what, eight to ten seasons and won five or six titles in that time, that’s something you look at and see why the shirt means so much at this club.
Read the rest of the interview after the jump.
Q: Then you have the individuality of someone like Cantona…
A: Yes, Cantona, Cristiano, Beckham, they really were all one-off players and it’s the word individual that most accurately describes them and they’ve certainly made that shirt even more iconic here.
Q: Does the history of the shirt and the number of legendary players who have worn it bring extra pressure?
A: Yes to be honest, you could say it does because those guys have all sweat blood and earned so much respect for the shirt that the moment comes when you are on the field and you say to yourself, wow, I’ve got the seven on my back and I have to deliver and I have to make it even bigger.
Q: What number 7 has had the most impact at Manchester United in your opinion?
A: It’s a tough one that when you consider the players we are talking about, people like Beckham, Cantona, and a few others, but I think that the player who has made the biggest mark in this shirt would be Cristiano, both for the trophies he won and the goals he scored.
Q: What about George Best?
A: Even growing up in Ecuador I was aware of Best’s place amongst the great players – I only wish he had played a few years later and I could have seen more of him.
Q: Did Sir Alex Ferguson say anything to you about the significance of the shirt before it was announced that you’d be wearing it?
A: No not at all. The manager just said would you like to wear it and I said yes, of course, no problem at all.
Q: You were very confident?
Q: When did you first wear the number seven?
A: In South Africa, on the tour.
Q: What’s your style like off the pitch?
A: As simple and as straightforward as possible!
Q: Do you think you’ve brought your own style of play to the no. 7 shirt?
A: Not so far, but I would certainly like to leave my mark in the future.
Q: You don’t think you have yet?
A: No, not yet!
Q: How does being at Manchester United compare to playing for Wigan? Was it a big step up for you?
A: There’s a huge difference because we all know United’s history compared with Wigan’s. Manchester United is a team used to winning trophies like the Champions League and the Premier League and unfortunately Wigan haven’t won things on that scale, so yes, history tells us that United are a bigger club than Wigan.
Q: So it was a big step?
A: The big step was arriving at Wigan – it was always in my mind to see if I could progress and earn a move to a big club, and it turned out to be United.
Q: What’s it like stepping out at Old Trafford in front of the home fans?
A: It’s really great. I wasn’t used to playing in front of 75,000 people every Saturday, Sunday or Wednesday but I’m more accustomed to it now. I think that the first impression was, ‘wow, it’s really happening and I’d better perform well here!’
Q: What did winning the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year Award last season mean to you?
A: It was really incredible, very moving, but it also was a great source of motivation at the same time. For me it was special to receive such a big award as Player of the Year, and since it was voted for by my team mates I think it was just unbelievable. But as well as the player’s award, there were the ones from the fans too, so all the trophies were really special. The third one was for best goal.
Q: How are the goal celebrations coming along?
A: They’re not! I’m not off the mark for the season yet!
Q: How do you feel this season has gone for you personally thus far?
A: Quite well. I think I made a good start to the season, but then I suffered an injury to my instep, followed by a back injury which left me on the sidelines, the back problem taking longer, for almost a whole month. But I’m fit again now and I’ve managed to play four games on the run. But now I think I have to get back to my best form and push myself even harder because there is stiff competition for places in the team and wait my turn to feature again.
Q: You mentioned not scoring, have you set yourself a goal scoring target, a figure?
A: The ‘figure’ would be firstly to start playing regularly and playing well, and then the goals and the assists will gradually start to come along.
Q: How many did you get last season?
Q: No pressure then. I thought you had scored you know, maybe you’ve been celebrating your team mates goals more!
Q: Sir Alex Ferguson rotates his midfield a lot. Is there any friendly rivalry in training between yourself and the other wingers?
A: Like I said before, there is quite a lot of competition for places which I think makes for some hard fought training sessions because everyone wants to be playing in the first team. It’s healthy rivalry and competition, with no ill feeling at all from any of the players. Everyone just wants to play and perform well for the good of the team.
Q: Is everyone supportive, is it in good spirit and is there some joking around too?
A: Yes there is always some joking around in training but we’re all team mates and so challenges are always fair and never dirty.
Q: Who’s the toughest full-back you’ve come up against?
A: Honestly, I would say Patrice Evra. I face him every day in training and it is never, ever easy – he’s very quick, physically strong and reads me very well. He’s a brilliant defender but also has the ability to put you on the back foot when he comes forward.
Q: The team have a decent lead in the Premier League at the moment. Does that change your approach to matches at all?
A: Yes, it’s very different because of what happened last season, I don’t know if it was about the total disbelief that we could miss out on the league on goal difference, but when you lose the title like that it’s a really bitter blow to suffer. So now in every game and every training session everyone is even more focused and fully concentrated on playing well and applying ourselves to the task of regaining the league title and even better the Champions League.
Q: Does the quality of Manchester United’s strikeforce make it easier for you as a winger?
A: They are all magnificent players and so as a midfielder you always have to be very aware of their movement which can be so rapid that if you are not concentrating, they can end up getting caught offside. So all of us in the middle of the park need to read the game so well because we are playing behind such an incredible group of front men.
Q: How hard do you work on the training ground to develop the kind of understanding that you and Wayne Rooney enjoy?
A: It all happens quite naturally and spontaneously on the field during games. We all know about Rooney’s quality, he is so quick and bright, we could be here all day talking about how good he is!
Q: So have you worked on anything to develop this understanding?
A: We’ve worked a little bit on crosses – they really need to be accurate because if they aren’t you might miss a chance on goal or an attack might break down. So we’ve paid a lot of attention to that.
Q: Have you spoken about it?
A: No, not at all, just practised.
Q: Robin van Persie recently praised the strength of the team spirit and collective effort at Manchester United. How do you think the management creates this sense of togetherness?
A: I think that this attitude, concentration and mental strength are down to the manager and every day that he’s there. Win or lose, you are in the next day, and you train every day and you want to win every day. If you lose a game one day, the next day you can’t afford to mope around because there’s another game in a couple of days. I think that’s the mindset of the team and of everything that Manchester United does.
Q: What is the secret of United’s long run of success?
A: First and foremost it would be the manager, and his 26 years in the job. In addition it’s the day to day work that goes on constantly within the club to make Manchester United what it is.
Q: How impressed have you been with Tottenham and Everton this season? Are they threats to the traditional top 4?
A: The Premier League is full of teams who can hurt you, not just Everton and Tottenham. They can make life difficult because even though they (Spurs and Everton) are quite a few points behind us but then there are plenty of other teams who make things tough for you. United might be top of the league but they can still play someone like Wigan or Reading who are near the bottom and either drop points or even lose. But I think that those two teams have done well so far, with around 40 points each and they are having very good seasons which shows they are heading in the right direction.
Q: Do you see either of them grabbing a Champions League spot?
A: I think so, both Everton and Spurs have a good chance of getting in the Champions or Europa League, if they carry on in this form, they will go a long way.
Q: Do you feel any pressure coming from your city rivals?
A: No way, no pressure at all. The only pressure we feel is the pressure we put on ourselves to keep winning.
Q: How excited are you about playing Real Madrid? Is the team looking forward to taking on Cristiano Ronaldo?
A: We all know the quality that will be on display in that game and the whole world will be watching. Any player would want to be playing in a game like that, but between now and then we have the matter of the Premier League to fight for, and once the Champions League fixtures come around we’ll be concentrating on those games and of course trying to make sure the fans enjoy themselves.
Q: Is the dressing room talking about Madrid and Cristiano?
A: They might be but I haven’t understood anything or haven’t been paying attention, but I haven’t heard anything being said about Madrid or Cristiano just yet.
Q: Are the Spanish speaking players talking about the Madrid game?
A: We talk about Madrid and La Liga every week, but not specifically about when we play them.
Q: Who would you have given the Ballon d’Or to?
A: It’s a tough question but I would have given it to Messi.
Q: Favourite 7 players ever, current or retired?
A: Ryan Giggs, Scholesy, Iniesta, Messi, Patrice Evra, Lampard, Totti
Q: Favourite player of all time?
Q: What can you say about Albert Morgan? What words would you use?
A: He’s great, and works really hard. Maybe a bit crazy too.