For most of his career Victor Valdés Arribas has lived the dream.
Now, for the former Barcelona goalkeeper who has won 21 titles, including six La Ligas and three Champions Leagues as well as five Zamora awards for the goalkeeper with the lowest goals per game record in the Spanish league, the dream has turned into a nightmare.
On the precarious tightrope that is football’s fickle fortune, these days he cuts a forlorn figure; ostracised, isolated and marginalized by the club that he had hoped to represent at the highest level.
So how did we get to here? How did one of the greatest goalkeepers in the history of the game end up unwanted at a club where he is now forced to train alone with just a goalkeeping coach for company?
Much has been written about Valdés’ short but controversial spell with Manchester United, a great deal of it based on assumption, rumour and conjecture. Sometimes bald facts blur what is the simple truth which is that as far as he is concerned, firstly, he has nothing but affection for everyone at Manchester United, and, secondly he is 100% fit and raring to continue his career.
The position taken by Louis Van Gaal is purely a footballing one. That Valdés should end up mentally bloodied and deeply affected by events will represent to him no more or no less than yet another example of the collateral damage the game so frequently creates.
So where did it all go wrong?
In truth, from the moment he decided that his days at Barcelona were done, the matter has been handled dreadfully; mistakes were made, mistakes that would prove costly.
Many months before the end of his contract with Barcelona, he had agreed a deal to join Monaco. This was at a time when the French side were very busy in the market, signing players like Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez and Valdés was to be another jewel in the crown being fashioned in the millionaires’ playground.
Error number one occurred when the deal with Monaco was not correctly tied up. When on the 26th of March 2014 in a match against Celta Vigo, Valdés suffered a freak, serious cruciate knee ligament injury, Monaco had a way out and their interest didn’t so much wane as totally evaporate.
By the time of the injury the club had already started to tone down their profligate spending to the extent that they were now actually selling some of their previous expensive signings and Valdes’ misfortune presented them with the perfect opportunity to backtrack on the deal.
Mistake number two occurred when instead of keeping quiet and just slipping away at the end of his contract he decided to call a press conference to announce his departure. Barcelona were not impressed.
With one year left on his contract Monaco had wanted to sign Valdés for around six to seven million euros but Barcelona were having none of it.
Once recovered from his injury it soon became clear that both Liverpool and Manchester United wanted him. In October he had the option to sign for either of the two clubs. There were direct conversations with Brendan Rodgers and the Liverpool manager was certainly led to believe that Valdés loved Liverpool and would love to join the club.
In the end he opted for Manchester United mainly because of the chance to re-unite with Frans Hoek, the goalkeeping coach at United who he had worked with before.
He also knew that at this particular time David De Gea was thinking about leaving United to join Real Madrid so genuinely believed that United presented a better career opportunity than Liverpool at that point.
So following tests that showed he was 100% fit he signed on the dotted line in January 2015.
His arrival at the club coincided with an upturn in the form of De Gea who had been going through a sticky patch and as a result Louis van Gaal asked Valdés to play in the reserves for the time being.
Eager to get in some match practise and convinced it was only a matter of time before he graduated into the first team the goalkeeper agreed. Neither then, nor now, did he have any problem with the plan and as far as he could see what he was enjoying was a normal, professional relationship with van Gaal.
And then the walls fell in.
In the spring of 2015 in a reserve match, Valdés took a nasty knock to the same knee that caused no real physical damage, but still managed to give him the fright of his life.
Concerned that perhaps playing in the reserves might not now be the best idea now that he had regained his form he suggested to van Gaal that he should return to training with the first team and take his place as number two goalkeeper in the squad behind De Gea, which is no more than normal practise with most clubs.
Van Gaal begged to differ and Valdés himself is no shrinking violet. What followed was an argument for which the phrase irresistible force and immovable object could have been invented. The die was cast.
Van Gaal said nothing but before long it became abundantly clear that the goalkeeper did not figure in his long term plans.
But before then however, an injury sustained by De Gea in the closing quarter of a home match against Arsenal earned him his first team debut and at the same time confirmation that his days at Old Trafford were numbered.
Valdés conceded a goal that he should have prevented and despite his protestations that it was because he had insufficient time to warm up, van Gaal berated him in front of his team mates telling him that, while he might well have been physically fit, not playing in the reserves as he had wanted him to had made him rusty.
When he returned for pre-season training he found himself excluded, his locker removed and not even able to sit down and eat with the other players.
Meanwhile, if he needed any more convincing that his time was up at Old Trafford, then that was supplied with the signing of Sergio Romero as cover for De Gea. An official club picture was also taken recently and Valdes is not in it.
So where now for the 33-year-old keeper?
First and foremost, apart from any situation he may have with Manchester United, he and his legal team still have unfinished business with AS Monaco.
Valdés signed for the French club as a free agent in January 2014 for four seasons. The club’s unilateral decision to renege on the deal following his injury led to proceedings being started against the club in the courts of the Principality as far back as July 5, 2014. A ruling from the court is anticipated sometime in the next few months.
On the playing front, Sevilla and Valencia have expressed an interest but ideally he would like to remain in the Premier League.
There was talk about him going to play in Turkey with Besiktas only for that deal to collapse for a number of contractual reasons and Chelsea have also taken a look but would not make any sort of move until the contractual wrangle between the player and the club are sorted out.
The feeling is that Valdes has been the villain of the piece but in reality it’s just another one of those complex, convoluted footballing situations that could have been handled much better, especially by the manager.
It is also a perfect example of just how huge a part fate plays in the careers of even the very best ofplayers.