BARCELONA // A sense of incredulity greeted the January announcement by Victor Valdes that he would not be renewing his contract with Barcelona.
The Catalans had offered their first-choice goalkeeper of 11 years an extension which he declined to sign, stating that he would not be playing for the club beyond June 2014 when his current contract runs out. The decision, it was said, was "irrevocable".
Publicly, Barcelona respected his decision. Privately, they sought to find a solution to keep him. They are happy with Valdes, but short of offering the same level of pay as Xavi and Andres Iniesta, which they did, there was little they could do.
Elements in the Catalan media were not so forgiving. They were baffled that a Barcelona-born boy would want to leave the club he has been at from his early days in football. Fans were divided, with some seeing his decision as a snub and others respecting his wish to try new cultures and different football leagues.
Valdes, 31, had explained that one of the happiest moments in his life came when he left Barcelona to live in Tenerife as a child. "It's hard to imagine wearing another shirt, but I've been doing this 11 years," he said. "One year as Barcelona keeper is like three years at another team. The pressure is immense."
Valdes has said nothing on the topic since. Barcelona do not have a top-class goalkeeper waiting in the wings. The reserve, Jose Manuel Pinto, who has filled in without problems during Valdes's recent suspension, is 38.
Valencia's reserve goalkeeper, Vicente Guaita, 26, has been linked with a step up. Barcelona's decision will be in safe hands, for their sporting director is the legendary goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta.
Valdes has improved year on year. He has been Spain's No 1 in the recent absence of Real Madrid's Iker Casillas. Yet while Casillas, with whom Valdes has a good relationship, is venerated and called "Saint Iker" in Madrid, Valdes does not receive the same adulation in Barcelona.
Supporters can be harder on their own and fail to appreciate them until they have gone.
Also, clubs can be parsimonious in contract negotiations, especially if they know a player is settled at home and surrounded by friends and family. But Barca pay well and offered Valdes a reported €8 million (Dh38.3m) per year; Casillas is the only goalkeeper in the world who makes more.
Valdes is reasonable in his own recent assessment when he said: "I'm better now than I was five years ago. I used to be considered a bit of a madman for the way I played, you know, a bit crazy. Maybe I was, but now I'm calmer. That helps me. The older you get the calmer you become. Experience gives you better positioning, it makes things become easier and that breeds confidence."
He also believes he has more to offer. "I believe that I can still improve, both physically and technically," he said.
"I want to keep improving, need to keep improving. Luckily, I still really enjoy training but I'm always striving to improve."
Another club might be the recipient of a better Valdes. Bayern Munich, under Pep Guardiola, would seem an obvious choice if they did not already have the German No 1, Manuel Neuer.
Valdes has said that he likes England's Premier League and spoke of the passion of British fans, but the leading three clubs have excellent goalkeepers in David De Gea, Joe Hart and Petr Cech. He could replace the fading Pepe Reina at Liverpool but that would be a big step down from Barcelona.
Valdes faces a test at Camp Nou tonight, a chance to remind the world of his quality. With injuries to the central defenders Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano, Valdes will need to be at his best behind a makeshift defence facing a Paris St Germain attack led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
That will not faze him. Nothing does, these days, especially when it comes to plotting his future.
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