Valencia over the moonwalking for his United return

Nasa-developed treatment helped the tough Ecuadorean winger come back from a serious ankle injury

You take what feeble reassurances you can from those deadening moments when the football has stopped, the stretcher is on, an oxygen mask is out and the crowd has fallen to a hush. When Antonio Valencia was carefully carried from the Old Trafford pitch eight months ago, his faint, raised right arm seemed to be some form of defiance against the fate he had been dealt.

It was actually something far more fragile, we now learn. The pain which left the Ecuadorean laid out on the wet Old Trafford grass – and had those present conjuring images of Alan Smith, the United player who never really recovered from a similar fate – was too great to acknowledge the parting ovation. Valencia simply wanted his daughter, Domenica, to take some comfort and the tattoo on his right arm bears her name. "So I wasn't actually signalling to the crowd," he reveals. "I wanted to show her and reassure her I was going to be OK. That's the reason I did it..."

We are only just discovering this because Valencia – shy to the point of awkwardness and so unprepared for the culture shock of his move to United from Wigan Athletic two summers ago that he drove his rather battered BMW 3-series through the Carrington gates – does not tend to go in for public acts of reflection. But the memory of those heavy minutes after the innocuous challenge by Rangers' Kirk Broadfoot in a Champions League group game last September are too fresh to put aside. "At that moment I could think of nothing but the pain – I just wanted it to go away," he recalls. "I was stricken and I remember just lying and waiting for the doctor to tell me what was going to happen. I didn't feel sick or dizzy, because I was given oxygen straight away and then an injection. Then the pain started to subside."

After the pain came the contemplation of a double break and dislocation of the left ankle, with a minimum six-month recovery time. "You start to think about the other players who have had that type of injury and they've never really recaptured it; never really got back to the level they were at before," Valencia says.

His presence back in United's first team is testament to the 25-year-old's strength and to the fact that he was effectively walking on the moon in mid-winter. Valencia's constant companion for three months was Carrington's underwater treadmill, initially designed by Nasa to replicate the sense of weightlessness in space, which he explains, means "you can put in the same physical effort that you put in on the field without putting any strain or weight on your leg at all".

Yet no sports scientist could quell the fears washing through his mind when he awoke in Manchester's Whalley Range hospital the morning after the injury. He turned to United's club chaplain John Boyers in the dark moments – "his kind words gave me more inspiration" – and a certain Scottish football manager marched up the hospital ward, with assistant Mike Phelan in tow, that morning after. "The manager didn't really set me any targets," Valencia says. "They just said, 'Look, these things happen in football, don't worry, take it easy, take all the time in the world, all the time you need, and everything will be fine'. It meant a lot."

After the tedium of Spanish television during home confinement, came minor breakthroughs. "The best time was when I first went out running with the physio. It hurt a little at first but I knew it was a good thing." Then, 45 minutes on the field in the FA Cup victory over Arsenal in March. "A lovely, warm feeling."

Which brings him to today, waking up in Marylebone's Landmark Hotel, with the right to feel confident of a starting place in tomorrow's Champions League final against Barcelona. The facility with which Valencia has slotted back into the side after half a year out led Michael Carrick to say it was the sharpest he's ever seen anyone after such a bad injury and bears out the theory that tough backgrounds breed hungry achievers.

"It's right to point out that there are lots of characters in this squad, but whether people are from a comfortable background or tough beginning, I don't know," he reflects, though his hometown of Lago Agrio in north-east Ecuador makes the uncompromising childhoods of Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra seem like a picnic. A flood of refugees from the cocaine wars raging across the nearby Colombian border has made kidnapping a serious problem.

It is another product of the school of hard knocks, Wayne Rooney, who said that Valencia's supply line makes the Ecuadorean's name the one he most wants to see on the team sheet. "I say the same about him as well," Valencia replies. "It is nice to hear those words and I'm very grateful to Wayne but I look for his name on the sheet as well. The manager always starts with the goalkeeper and goes from right to left. So I am mentioned quite early on but then I have to listen out to see if Wayne is mentioned as well. It works both ways."

His last-minute preparations are calm. He has faced Lionel Messi twice before, in World Cup qualifiers, and emerged well enough, he reflects: "I just go into the game calmly, concentrated and focused on the game ahead." Luis Antonio Valencia has travelled a long way in eight months.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments