Nani: a modern winger

November 1, 2010 Tags: Opinion 10 comments

Wingers, the traditional kind that reaches and then crosses from the byline, are rapidly dying out in the modern game; perhaps only Antonio Valencia and Miloš Krasić of those on the books of European giants can be classified as such. The decline is due to the prevalence of single-striker systems, where classic wingers are simply less effective.

In traditional wingers’ wake modern full-backs are given more license to bomb forward and provide width. Since full-backs can pitch in on the flank, wingers no longer have to remain rooted to the touchline. Wide-men now more often cut in from the flank, providing room for full-backs to attack. Conversely, attacking full-backs force – or allow – wingers inside.

The immediate consequence for teams pushing wide-men inside is better maintenance of possession since there are more players in the centre of the park. After all, keeping the ball has never been more important in modern football.

The modern version of the winger is becoming more prevalent even in the Premier League where 4-4-2 remains the system du jour. We need look no further than Manchester United’s recent game against Tottenham Hotspur for an example. Sir Alex Ferguson deployed a 4-4-2 that became 4-2-2-2 in possession, with Park Ji-Sung and Nani both cutting inside.

Indeed, it was the presence of these two players that prevented United’s midfield from being overrun by Tottenham, who nominally started with an additional central midfielder.

Moreover, the modern trend is to deploy wingers on the ‘wrong’ flank – right-footed players on the left and vice versa – enabling attacking players to cut inside and shoot from a better angle. These ‘inverted wingers’ can also deliver inswinging crosses, which are a potent attacking weapon in crowded penalty areas where even the slightest deflection can end up with the ball in the net.

One immediate disadvantage of course is that the act of crossing is harder, assuming the wide player has to deliver with his ‘wrong’ foot. More technically astute players, such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have flourished in the role.

Nani epitomises the modern winger. No matter which flank the Portuguese international starts from, the player looks to cut in and attack the box. Nani’s wonderful touch, technique – especially when striking the ball – and improved decision-making means he has blossomed into a very important player for United over the past 12 months.

Having said that, it is no coincidence that Nani’s form has been deadly in past few weeks during where he has mainly been used on the right. Nani is two-footed – unlike Valencia – and has no problem dribbling and shooting with his left peg. Still, the player undeniably prefers to use his right.

When deployed on the left, the penchant to cut inside renders the former Sporting winger more predictable. On the right flank, defenders can’t pre-empt Nani’s movement by showing the player down the flank – he is comfortable getting to the byline and delivering a cross, or cutting inside and shooting as he did recently against West Bromwich Albion.

Not that Nani isn’t also a goal threat on the left, where he can either provide a cross or cut in and shoot and the development in his game is something the 24-year-old now recognises. It has brought a new level of confidence.

“As a player I think I’m close to being as complete as I can be,” Nani said recently.

“I can say I’m one of the top players in the world. I play for the best club in the world and my role in the team is as a decisive player, scoring goals or setting up and so the team can win.

“You have to believe in yourself and believe in your abilities on the pitch. Big games are for big players. I want to be one of the best. I’m not scared to play in the big games, they are the most beautiful in football – you play with very high quality.

“Beautiful football, that’s what everyone likes, and that helps lift my performance, too.”

Nani’s improved performances leave United with an interesting dilemma when Antonio Valencia returns. Valencia is a more limited player in that he is really only comfortable on the right flank. At the same time, Valencia is too good a player to leave out, especially after the former Wigan Athletic winger’s excellent first season at Old Trafford.

The other option, if Nani continues to improve and Javier Hernández cements his place in Ferguson’s side, is for Wayne Rooney to slot in on left-wing at the expense of Valencia.

Rooney, Hernández and Nani: mobile, skilful, pacey, two-footed players who can swap positions at will.

Remind you of certain times?


herbie simms - November 1, 2010 Reply

Nani seems more comfortable playing on the right. When Valencia comes back, could try Nani as an attacking midfielder. Don’t know how effectve Nani will be now if you play him on the left. But the way he is playing now, he should be just as dangerous, playing on the left side.

redevil_83 - November 1, 2010 Reply

great observation regarding modern wingers. it’s getting more and more prevalent but you definitely need some skill and adaptability to make full use of it. can be a great weapon indeed with unpredictability the main feature.

Ibrahim - November 1, 2010 Reply

Great Article.. Nani’s becoming the player we hope he’d become. Very decisive, mobile and dangerous. Keep it up lad.

RedScot - November 1, 2010 Reply

” Remind you of certain times” i can answer that question , but thats history.
I just would lke to see Nani as much as I adore him, stop diving and acting like Ronaldo.
Its only going to bring you trouble, aka the boy who called wolf.
I also think and under the concept of swiching wingers that are more gifted with one foot.
I somehow cant see Antonio playing on the left.
To me its unbalanced to play your more prolific right winger out of postion.
I guess its called thrust from all quarters, like Rafael and Patrice. Its more Brazil like than we imagine( and we wont Mourhino) lol
If this lad had any control with a football of his left foot he would be a World class right winger.
On a seperate subject but based on tatics, does anyone see Wayne Rooney(Black sheep) playing a deeper role like he does for the English national side.
To feed Hernandez and find the pass for him to bomb onto.
Although I think Berbalove and Javier have linked up superbly.
Off topic again i sincerely hope Sir Alex has a rant in the press in the near future about the horrendous tackles Hernandez is suffering, the lad just smiles, for now. I see a real serious injury for him, and thats not me pricking pins in the Imaginary Voodhoo doll, that resulted in Sir Alexs rage at a journo, in a press conference at Carrington.
On to Turkey.
Come on you Reds. Lets complete closure on this.

uncleknobheadforfucksake - November 2, 2010 Reply

how much longer do you think he’s gonna stay for

Triggs - November 2, 2010 Reply

Interesting points about the new trend in wingers.

I think that this development has also made the necessity for full backs to be comfortable on the ball and decent crossers, all the more important. Personally, I think Rafael and Evra need to improve their crossing. When Nev gets it right (e.g. Milan) he can be an awesome crosser – but he’s generally terrible in possesion unlike Evra and Rafael.

If United can bring Sanchez or Bale in and once Tony V’s back, we’d be very strong in wide positions. Still need someone to boss in the middle though.

herbie simms - November 2, 2010 Reply

Could play Rooney just behind the strikers, coming through the middle. He is a forceful player, should do well there.

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