Seven years separate two games, with different teams, in different competitions, but the venue is the same. Stade de France in Paris has become a special stadium for Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdés, the venue for two career changing performances.
FC Barcelona was 1-0 down when Frank Rijkaard decided to put on Henrik Larsson in the 61st minute and Juliano Belletti in the 71st. Five minutes after Belletti had entered, Larsson found Eto’o who made the result level. Five minutes after that, the same player found Belletti who scored the winner. It was the 2006 Champions League final and FC Barcelona had become European Champions for the first time since 1992 and for only the 2nd time in their history. The late substitutes Larsson and Belletti were the heroes of the night.
It was a lovely May evening at the Stade de France, a stadium that has come to signify so much for Victor Valdés. This is because, that night in 2006, the then 24-year-old was living one of the best and most crucial moments of his career. He was the real hero behind the victory. Had it not been for Victor’s outstanding game, the performances from Larsson and Belletti would not have been enough for the Catalans to win. Arsenal’s Thierry Henry was in the form of his life, playing on a level beyond the rest. But not a single one of his attempts would get past Valdés.
Victor had been fighting off Pepe Reina, Bonano and even Rustu for the spot of Barça’s first choice keeper, but at the time it still wasn’t certain that he was the right man for the job. Then came that May evening in Paris. Henry was having a fantastic game and created chance after chance, but the 24-year-old just wouldn’t let anything get past him. It made Henry furious and he later revealed how much he despised Victor after that game. Victor himself later revealed that “it was the most crucial game of my career, without it I wouldn’t be at Barcelona today.”
It was an evening that Victor Valdés will never forget. While the media focused on Larsson, Eto’o and Belletti, they totally ignored the performance by the Barça keeper. Despite this, Valdés knew that not only had he been a huge part of winning his biggest trophy to date, he had also saved his footballing career with that performance. He describes it as “a turning point”.
Seven years later Victor returned to the Stade de France. By this time there were no doubts about his being Barcelona’s first choice keeper. He had won the Champions League two more times, and added to that a couple of League titles, Cup titles, the World Cup, and the European Championship. He had also become the first player in history to win the Zamora trophy five times. Victor Valdés is no longer in a position where one game could impact his career like that game in 2006 did. But still, this game would have a huge impact on Victor.
Having never really been given a chance with the national team, this March Victor Valdés was playing only his third full competitive game for Spain. Meeting a top nation like France gave him the chance to finally prove his critics wrong. And the way he did it. As he had done seven years earlier at the same ground. Valdés’s performance impressed the injured Iker Casillas in the stands so much that his goalkeeping rival went down to the dressing room to congratulate Victor for his outstanding game. Ribery, Benzema and company tried their hardest, but monster save after save from Valdés forced his critics to remain silent. Finally gone were the comments saying that he wouldn’t be able to play as well for anyone other than Barça.
Always fighting alongside Iker, Victor might never become Spain’s first choice keeper, but the performance against France made him look like a serious threat for the spot for the very first time. After this performance, even the media took notice of his role in the victory and maybe for the first time in his career, he got the praise he deserved from the press after the game. Valdés is now looking to try new experiences, leaving the Camp Nou behind as his contract expires in 2014. This performance for Spain, showing that he can perform well even outside of Barça, will definitely have made him an even hotter player on the transfer market. Once again the Stade de France became the venue for a crucial, maybe career changing moment for Victor Valdés.