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Conte's last stand, trophy-hunter Mourinho on prowl

FA Cup
 By Andy Mitten

Victor Valdes offers Manchester United safety and security in net

"That's Victor Valdes' place," Luis Enrique said to me in April 2013 as we walked close to his home south of Barcelona. "Not bad, eh?"

Ahead stood the finest looking of all the houses owned by Barca players. Clad in white, the futuristic property overlooked the Mediterranean Sea and was a house that showed the kind of material rewards a working-class boy can acquire if he makes it as a top footballer. Valdes, who turns 33 next week, has been absolutely at the top level for most of his career.

Since breaking into the Catalans' first team in 2002 under boss Louis van Gaal, he's won 21 trophies with Barcelona: six league titles, three European Cups, six Spanish Super cups, two Copa del Reys, two Club World Cups and two European Super Cups.

Individually, Valdes won the Zamora five times, the award given to the top-flight keeper in Spain who concedes the fewest goals. It helped having some of the greatest players on the planet in front of him, of course, but shouldn't detract from his record.

"He's the greatest goalkeeper in Barcelona's history," said Pepe Reina. "He's the number one," purred Andres Iniesta of the goalkeeper who has played 521 games for Barca, 376 in the league.

On Thursday, Valdes signed an 18-month deal with Manchester United on a free transfer. Now in charge of United, Van Gaal confirmed he arrives at Old Trafford as the No. 2, behind David De Gea, placing into question the future of backup Anders Lindegaard.

Victor Valdes is presented as a Manchester United player on Thursday.

Valdes' decision to leave Barcelona raised eyebrows. When he told the club that he wanted to go in December 2012, they thought it was a negotiating tactic for a better deal. Valdes, who always maintained that spending one year as Barca's goalkeeper was like three years at another team, was adamant; he wanted to try something new and stated that his decision was "irrevocable." Fans were perplexed. He hadn't fallen out with anyone; he was playing with his mates.

Monaco emerged as the suitor in 2014 before Valdes ruptured his cruciate ligament. With three months of his contract remaining, he never got to say goodbye to fans after a game and was soon unemployed.

Liverpool wanted Valdes and there was an offer from Juventus, too. He didn't feel right about either club, especially Liverpool even though their goalkeeping situation is far more fraught than United's and he could have been a realistic first-choice custodian.

In the end, Valdes felt better about Manchester United, in part because he knew Van Gaal and United's goalkeeping coach Frans Hoek. United welcomed him in October with a view to him training well, then passing a medical and signing for the club. Valdes accepted United's offer.

Valdes was always something of an Anglophile. In 2012 he told me: "I like the respect of the crowd toward footballers in England. It's a different way of living football. They clap a simple tackle in England, we're not used to that. I really like it.

"I've played in Scotland, too. That's a difference world, isn't it? There's always a spectacular atmosphere in Glasgow. I've played against Celtic and Rangers and, during the game, looked around and heard the noise and thought, 'Wow, this really is amazing, this is incredible.'"

United wanted him because Van Gaal wasn't satisfied that the club had a No. 2 of sufficient quality and there's been a trend for the top clubs to have two excellent goalkeepers. Chelsea have Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech, Real Madrid Iker Casillas and Keylor Navas, Bayern Munich Manuel Neuer and Pepe Reina, Man City Joe Hart and Willy Caballero. While the club he left, Barcelona, bought two first-team goalkeepers, Claudio Bravo and Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Being a reserve keeper at any club is a big step down after Barca. But the man who loves kite surfing will be pushing to be No. 1. And, however good he is, that prospect might alarm some United fans who are delighted with De Gea.

Having not seen Valdes play for their team, United fans are more preoccupied with De Gea's future at the club. His contract is up in 2016 and no formal talks about a renewal have so far taken place with his agent, Jorge Mendes.

United were said to be relaxed about the situation all along and now plan negotiations to keep De Gea at the club too. If anything, Valdes' arrival at Old Trafford suggests more about what the club think of Lindegaard -- the 30-year-old hasn't started in any match, in any competition, this season -- than it does De Gea.

Now United's Spanish stoppers from that country's two biggest cities, Barcelona and Madrid, could just about be the best goalkeeping one-two in world football.

Which is how United, a club who played a reserve goalkeeper in the 1990 FA Cup final replay, used three goalkeepers in the month before the 1991 Cup Winners' Cup final and a reserve for the 1997 European Cup semifinal first leg, would like it. They want safety and security in all positions. At least Valdes will provide that for the No. 1 shirt.

Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.


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