There were eyes full of excitement; smiles of contempt, genuine wondering and even patronising empathy. The football world was deep into the new episode of Cristiano Ronaldo dramedy. Meanwhile, the man who was once believed to be Ronaldo’s heir, struggled alone. Luis Nani might beg for pity too, but nobody seems to care. When the debate was no longer about Ronaldo, it had moved as Robin van Persie’s get out of jail free card played at Southampton, or the lazy international week.
Last Saturday, there was as little salvation found for the Portuguese on the pitch, as off it. Nani played a huge part in United’s opening goal against Wigan Athletic, and showed sparks of brilliance throughout the game, but for the most part his efforts ended up in vain, frustration dominating his game.
Nani’s vexation culminated in one episode when the winger didn’t seem even remotely interested in an opponent robbing United of what seemed a certain corner. By then Nani’s grievance was at its peak and the world had gotten the better of him.
The Portuguese didn’t do much wrong. Time and time again he found himself in good positions, but his finishing kept letting him down. The moment an opportunity presented itself, Nani’s mind began to play tricks on him – it was almost self-evident that the pressure was too much, and the final whistle became a welcome guest.
There can be little doubt about Nani’s ability, but the swings and roundabouts of form remain a solid enemy. The media, keen to blow everything out of proportion, usually doesn’t need a second invitation when it comes to a player’s poor form.
“What is clear is that the former Sporting Lisbon player is at a crossroads in his United career and is running out of time to convince Ferguson that he can fulfil his potential at Old Trafford,” read one article in Manchester Evening News recently. “Nani’s future looked in jeopardy during the summer. Nani has found himself on the brink at Old Trafford.”
It is a charge in which the player, quite obviously, has not helped his own cause. Not least because he insists on debating his future. and publicly studying potential opportunities.
“Football is not only about England or Spain,” said the winger this summer to prove the point. “It is possible to enjoy success in other countries. I have fulfilled five seasons with United and obtained all the titles.”
Negotiation through the press may have been a great idea when Nani’s team was pushing hard for a new contract – work is still in progress – but now it’s more difficult for the player to complete that dance with the media on his back.
Some stories are better than others though. While a few outlets ran the Juventus ‘bid sensation’, the real beauty was Mirror’s early September headlines involving Zenit St Petersburg. Nani deliberately asked for such exorbitant wages, so goes the story, that the Russian club would inevitably break it off. Only Zenit pursue the deal insatiably. and Nani was forced to turn off his phone.
Whether or not the episode is true, fans remain suspicious about Nani’s motives. Is the Portuguese winger demonstrating loyalty towards United, or simply ready to hold the club to ransom over a new contract?
The more important question is: where does United stand regarding Nani? Based on contract negotiations alone, the club simply isn’t going to retain Nani at any cost.
Which brings us back to the player’s form. With contract talks seemingly stalled, and the media savouring every detail – or inventing new ones – Nani is in something of a limbo at Old Trafford. It could well explain the clear frustration. It’s a place, where – as Wayne Rooney might say – nobody knows where his head is at. Unfortunately for Nani, if he’s drowning, it’s on his own.
In truth, if Nani really wants to stay at United, he needs to regain his confidence. It will help earn that new contract too. The possibility remains that neither happens – and if that is the case, for all Nani’s imagination and brilliance, should prepare to say goodbye and never look back.
Should Nani stay, he is a player that needs to take a deep breath and restart. Otherwise, the player will inevitably himself at Juventus or whoever is the highest bidder in a few years. After all, Sir Alex Ferguson is all to happy to “show the door” to those players not committed to the cause.
There is hope for the player. Four years ago, on a rainy night in Moscow, the Portuguese boy kept his nerve in the Champions League final shoot-out. Now, he should do the same. Keep your shirt on, Luis, it’s the greatest one you’ll ever wear.
Just ask Cristiano.