After playing his 500th game. Victor Valdes had his teammates sign his jersey. If that didn't clue supporters in, reports that he held a "goodbye banquet" for teammates and coaches should give them a better idea. Valdes is on his way out.
During midseason, he refused to extend his contract past 2014, so in a way, it wasn't so surprising. But still, most people assumed he wanted to stay for the last year of his deal. Turns out, that's not the case. He's being strongly linked with a move towards newly promoted AS Monaco of the French Ligue 1.
Born in L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, in southwest Catalonia, Valdes has been part of FC Barcelona starting in 1992, and continuously since 1995. He came up through the youth ranks, playing in Barcelona C, then Barcelona B, before making his debut for the senior side in 2002. Since, he has won a hoist of trophies, including three UEFA Champions League titles, and become third-choice captain.
Valdes has been criticized throughout his career for inconsistency or mental errors, and especially in the past few years, the level of attack directed at him has felt particularly unfair. Perhaps for this reason, Valdes seeks to prove himself on a different team.
While he has made his fair share of notable mistakes, Valdes has also been key in several games. He was excellent in the 2-1 win over Arsenal in the 2006 Champions League final, and consistently one of the best keepers in the world during the 2010-11 campaign.
Valdes has won the Ricardo Zamora Trophy, given to the goalkeeper with the best goals-to-games ratio in La Liga, a record five times.
This year, his best performance for Barca was probably against Paris Saint-Germain in the return leg of the Champions League semifinals. Despite an exposed defense, Valdes kept most everything out, and Barcelona only needed one goal to progress in the end.
But the performance that he will remember most fondly from this season is probably one he played not for Barcelona, but for the Spanish national team. The Catalan had not made his full international debut until 2010, partly because he was a late bloomer and partly because Spain has had great goalkeepers in abundance lately.
He was third-choice when he won the World Cup that year, but he is clearly second-choice - at least - now. With starter Iker Casillas injured, Valdes was called into action for a tricky match away against France. Lose or draw and Spain would likely have to go through a playoff to qualify for the World Cup. After that, the unthinkable could happen. In a two-legged-affair, the world champions could miss even qualifying for a chance to defend their crown.
Valdes was amazing, pulling off some great saves to keep a clean sheet while Pedro Rodriguez gave Spain the only goal they needed to remain in pole position for a chance to retain their world title. With Casillas not in Jose Mourinho's favor at Real Madrid, it's not unthinkable that for the moment - and for the Confederations Cup - Valdes is Spain's first-choice in goal. And after that, perhaps he could dare to dream of having that role in the 2014 World Cup.
Clearly there is a lot of value to a player so well-versed in Barcelona's style, so apt with his feet, so good at one-on-one stops. There were also some bad elements, and perhaps it's time to move on for both parties.
There are exciting prospects available that could bring a new era of goalkeeping with them. Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, from Borussia Monchengladbach, is strongly rumored to supplant Valdes once he leaves.
Barcelona clearly wanted him to stay, but if Valdes wants to move on, can we really blame him? Everyone is free to make their choices; he has given his all to the team and nothing else should be asked of any player beyond that.
There is only one thing I would say. He should not be granted special permission to leave for free. Monaco has more than enough money, if their 70m swoop for Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez is any indication. He has, perhaps, weakened Barca's hand already by not only announcing he won't renew, but announcing he is set on leaving already.
Maybe other clubs would have found out anyway, so perhaps it's a minor point. At the end of the day, Valdes will always have his critics but the results he brought speak for themselves. He is the only player to start all of the last three UCL titles Barca has captured.