By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
After the ecstasy, came agony. Victor Valdes expressed his delight as Barcelona's defiant Clasico win over Real Madrid rejuvanted their title challenge, but just three days later his Camp Nou career is over and with it his hopes of turning out for Spain at the World Cup in Brazil.
He had been desperate to leave the club on his own terms, and pained to remain faithful to his pre-defined date of departure. Now, he has been denied that opportunity, and one of Barcelona's finest-ever players won't be allowed to enjoy the fitting send-off his career merited.
Against Celta Vigo at Camp Nou, Valdes fell awkwardly after saving a Fabian Orellana free-kick at the second attempt and it soon became apparent that he was in real pain. As he went down, all the pressure went onto his knee and moments later he left the pitch on a stretcher, holding his face in extreme and excruciating discomfort.
As he departed, Neymar was close to tears and his best friend Andres Iniesta could barely manage a smile as he set up Lionel Messi for Barca's second goal of the night minutes later. The sight of their team-mate in such pain had hit the Barca players hard and in the end, they did well to close out an important 3-0 win.
"Valdes' injury changed the game," Iniesta said afterwards. "It was a fateful moment and the important thing now is that he recovers well."
Coach Gerardo Martino added: "Valdes' injury is a big blow, but we'll keep going."
Pinto is an able deputy, but his presence will not fill Barca with confidence in the final stages of La Liga and the Champions League, while he will now definitely play against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey showpiece next month. "We won't sign another goalkeeper," Martino confirmed.
Valdes, meanwhile, faces a spell of at least six months on the sidelines as the Catalan club confirmed on Wednesday that the keeper has suffered an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament.
This had been his best season at club level. Time after time he had made significant saves to see Barca through difficult moments. He held aspirations of replacing Iker Casillas in the starting line-up for Spain. He was particularly excited about playing in Brazil, a country where he has commercial ties and spent time with his family in the summer of 2012. He was also looking forward to bidding the Barca fans a fond farewell in his last league game.
Now, cut down at the peak of his powers, those dreams are over and he could also see his options for a move restricted as he searches for a new club and a fresh experience in the summer. It will be September or October at least by the time he is ready to return.
Football can be cruel and the 32-year-old is the game's latest victim. His absence is a big blow for Barcelona and fans of the Catalan club didn't want to see him go at all. Seeing him depart on a stretcher at the end of March is a desperately sad sight for admirers of one the Blaugrana's greatest goalkeepers and most loyal servants. Victor Valdes deserved a better send-off than this.
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