Ecuador President Lenin Moreno presented Manchester United stalwart Antonio Valencia with the prestigious National Order of Merit medal in recognition of his decade playing for the Premier League giants.
“I’ve ended a wonderful period in Manchester, but now there’s a difficult match ahead and I hope to play well, which is being a good father, and this is a commitment to my country’s children and youth,” said Valencia, who bowed out of Old Trafford on Sunday following 25 goals in 339 appearances since joining from Wigan Athletic in 2009.
“Mr president, I hope God rewards you for this acknowledgement.”
Valencia, 33, presented Moreno with the shirt he wore on Sunday in his final game, in the ceremony at the presidential Carondelet Palace in Quito.
Moreno praised the “beloved” Valencia for representing his country with dignity and valour “both on and off the pitch.”
He highlighted Valencia’s greatest achievements, including becoming the first Ecuadoran to play in a Champions League final, in 2011, and the first to lift the Europa League, in 2017.
Signed by legendary United manager Alex Ferguson, Valencia was made captain under Jose Mourinho although he played little this season due to injury, and hardly at all under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
He won two Premier League titles, the FA Cup in 2016, the League Cup twice and the Europa League once.
He is also his national team’s captain and is due to play in the Copa America starting next month.
He began his career as a right winger in 2003 at El Nacional in his homeland before moving to Villarreal in Spain two years later. He joined Wigan in 2006 before securing his dream move to United three years after that.
Known for his pace and powerful driven crosses, Valencia converted to full-back under Louis van Gaal.
The National Order of Merit is the second highest civilian award in Ecuador.
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