Why I voted for Valencia, not RvP, as player of the year
Antonio Valencia plays his football in the shadows.
He is a rare breed these days, a self-effacing Premier League player content to let others take the headlines.
But he is a player of great courage and wonderful skill who has been crucial to Manchester United's challenge for the Premier League title this season.
He works incredibly hard, of course, which is a prerequisite for most of the top players these days.
But he is also the joint-leader in assists this season, alongside the Manchester City magician David Silva.
Wayne Rooney may have had another brilliant campaign for United but it is Valencia who has loaded the bullets for him.
So even though it's hard to argue with Robin van Persie as the FWA Footballer of the Year, he didn't get my vote.
That went to Valencia, who didn't get in the Footballer of the Year top four and didn't even make the PFA first XI.
The players chose Silva on the right hand side of midfield, which allowed them to pick Gareth Bale on the left.
Fair enough. Again, it's hard to argue with players of the quality of Silva and Bale being named in any team.
The suspicion, perhaps, is that if the players had voted later in the season when Bale's contribution had begun to wane, Valencia might have made their side.
There is certainly no reason to rail against Van Persie's double success in winning the PFA and FWA awards.
He has scored some stunning goals for Arsenal this season and it has been his contribution that has dragged Arsene Wenger's side out of the early season mediocrity that threatened to engulf it.
But as United prepare to play City in Monday's Manchester title showdown, Valencia's part in the league leaders' challenge deserves recognition, too.
Here are a few testimonials from people who played with him at Old Trafford: "solid as a rock", "a dream to play with", "always in the right position", "his humility is one of his greatest assets".
His tenacity is another asset, his refusal to give up, a quality that drove him to a remarkable recovery from a sickening ankle injury in September 2010.
Many thought Valencia's career was over after his ankle was broken and dislocated during a Champions League game against Rangers.
At the very least, it was assumed he would never be the same player again and that he would never get the chance to prove he could be a real success at United after he was signed from Wigan in the summer of 2009.
But Valencia never succumbed to those thoughts.
He worked incredibly hard to regain his fitness.
He did not follow the fashion of returning to his home country to recuperate, working all the hours he could in United's fitness centre to speed his recuperation.
He won the admiration of everyone at the club with his determination. He came back fast and he came back stronger.
In many ways, he sums up the merits of a United side that observers have damned with faint praise this season.
He epitomises a fierce team work-ethic. He is the personification of a kind of excellence that is built on collective responsibility rather than individual brilliance.
He played part of the season at right-back, trying to plug one of the gaps in United's decimated defence.
Sure, he missed two chunks of the season through injury but each time he came back, he came back stronger.
Each time, his presence seemed to give United new impetus in their battle with their Manchester neighbours.
He missed a month with injury between mid-February and mid-March, then returned with a goal and two assists in the mauling of Wolves.
A fortnight later, he scored a fantastic goal to give United the lead in a difficult away match at Blackburn and laid on the second goal for Ashley Young.
Those snapshots are typical of his season, typical of a stubborn, dogged, brilliant midfielder who never gives an opponent a moment's rest.
It has been a thrilling race for the title between United and City this season, a season where many players from both sides have excelled.
But if United hold off City's late surge, no one will deserve more credit for their title win than Antonio Valencia.
My Team of the Year: Hart; Walker, Kompany, Coloccini, Baines; Valencia, Britton, Carrick, Silva; Rooney, Van Persie.
So, Stuart Pearce is still mulling over whether to include Jack Wilshere in his final GB squad for the Olympics.
Well, he should stop - now.
Wilshere has missed the entire season for Arsenal because of injury and will not be fit enough for the Euros.
What he needs, what Arsenal need, and what England need is for him to have a full and solid pre-season with his club to get his career back on track.
I'm a fan of Olympic football, but playing at the London Games would be the worst thing for Wilshere.
I hope Pearce has the sense to look at the bigger picture.
Early Euro 2012 predictions - Semi-finalists: Germany, Spain, France, Holland. Winners: Germany.
The desperation among the followers of Real Madrid to eclipse Barcelona is entirely understandable after three years of listening to paeans of praise about their Catalan rivals.
That desperation found voice on Monday after Jose Mourinho's side snapped Barcelona's 54-game home unbeaten streak at the weekend.
Madrid paper AS ran a headline on its front page, reporting that the New York Times had said Cristiano Ronaldo had won his battle with Lionel Messi.
And that, they seemed to be saying, was the last word.