Portuguese winger Nani is on the brink of signing a lucrative new four-year contract at Manchester United that will net the 25-year-old somewhere between £125,000 and £160,000 per week, depending on the veracity of media reports this week. Indeed, negotiations have been open for some time between player and club, with the winger’s agent liberally floating the former Sporting star’s name around Europe in the past year. Whatever the figure, it is a deal that is likely to make Nani one of United’s highest paid players.
In part, the bump up from Nani’s current £90,000 per week deal, which expires in June 2014, reflects the growing maturity and consistency in the Portuguese’s game over the past year. In part, Nani is benefitting from huge wage inflation in football generally, and at United in particular.
True, Nani can still infuriate through all-too-frequent loss of possession, poor passing and ineffectual crossing. Indeed, while Nani’s 80 per cent pass success rate is acceptable, the winger has lost possession through poor control or over-running a dribble on more than 130 occasions in the past two seasons. There there is Nani’s inconsistent crossing, with the winger getting it right just 21 per cent of the time last season, and 27 per cent in the current campaign. It is simply impossible to discuss the subject of Nani’s corners without drawing a collective groan from Old Trafford’s regulars.
But the productivity in terms of goals and assists means that Nani is now an integral weapon in Sir Alex Ferguson’s armoury. Eight assists and six goals have come in the current, albeit an injury-disrupted, campaign. The winger’s total was an impressive 14 and nine last season. Moreover, Nani’s consistency in creating chances, whether for other others or himself, is impressive; 114 chances created in the past two campaigns alone.
Yet, with more than two years left on the winger’s deal there is no urgency to add millions to Nani’s pay packet. After all, the new deal if, and when, signed could net the player over £30 million before 2016. No urgency, except of course, for the self-imposed wage inflation that United has suffered after Wayne Rooney successfully blackmailed the club into a huge new deal in October 2010.
Wage inflation is endemic in football and United is no exception, whatever the parsimonious attitude of the Glazer family to the transfer market. Even with copious retirements and departures last summer, United’s wage bill grew some 17 per cent in the past two quarters. In part this is due to new additions – Phil Jones, David de Gea and Ashley Young – but also contract extensions for Chris Smalling, Javier Hernández and Antonio Valencia.
None of that will bother Nani, of course, a super rich young man about to get just a bit more wealthy.
More immediately, Nani is yet to find the consistency of performance that the 52-cap winger had displayed through the autumn. Injury and a month on the sidelines has hardly helped player’s cause, with Nani admitting, ahead of United’s victory over Norwich last weekend, that he needs minutes.
“It has been difficult to get the consistency,” said the Cape Verde-born player. “I will work hard to come back because we need every player. Just now I am not at my best but I will try to recover my form as quickly as possible.”
With injuries disrupting each of Park Ji-Sung, Young and Valencia’s seasons, Nani will remain a crucial player during the run-in. Infuriating and brilliant – sometimes in equal measure – there is little doubt that come the big matches, Nani could provide United’s cutting edge. He could also blow it with a display of frustrating ineptitude. This much United supporters have come to know, and sometimes love, in the man who has rarely been out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow.
The Ronaldo comparison is one that has never served Nani well. As Ronaldo continues to break records at Real – 42 goals in all competitions to date this season, adding to the 53 last year – Nani will always be part of a gifted, but ultimately second tier of Europe’s attacking talents. It comes to something when the second tier is worth more than five million per season on the open market.
Is Nani really worth all the riches? Only a further improvement in the player’s performances will justify it for many observers, although in an inflated market allowing Nani to leave could simply mean the club searching out a, potentially, more expensive replacement.
Whether the player can improve is an open question. The talent is there, but consistency of application is normally lacking – not just from game-to-game, but in the individual moments that contribute to United’s success, or otherwise.
Nani’s new deal follows a pattern in which United continues to tie down players to long-term contracts. The policy is an expensive one – as Old Trafford’s bean-counters will attest – but likely significantly cheaper than real investment at the top end of the European market and the super-star wages and fee that it brings. For now, second-tier Nani will thank a personal improvement, and Rooney’s mega deal, for his own good fortune.