Nani returns for what may be a final Indian Summer

March 13, 2014 Tags: Reads 14 comments
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Strange season this; perhaps more so for Manchester United’s Portuguese winger Luis Nani. Little more than a year ago the former Sporting player’s time at Old Trafford was drawing to a close, with United accepting a huge bid from Zenit St. Petersburg in the winter window. The 26-year-old was out of Ferguson’s team and unwanted by the club with whom he has spent more than six years. Six months later and Nani would sign a lucrative five-year contract with United; a signal, perhaps, of new manager David Moyes’ faith in the errant wide-man. The winger turned down Zenit to be rewarded with a new opportunity at United.

Nani’s is a narrative that has rarely run on the straight and narrow. So often has the player been on the precipice at United that he has rarely, despite more than 225 appearances in Red, seemed a fixture at the club. More than once did was the player headed for an exit, only for another unlikely chance, often born of a revival that failed to last. It is the player’s lot; a supreme talent unfulfilled not for chances squandered, but conspicuous inconsistency. It is now four and half years since Rant declared Nani’s “last chance” at Old Trafford. So much for predictions.

The player’s debut was more than six years ago though – a second half substitute in United’s score draw with Chelsea in the 2007 Community Shield at Wembley. There have been some stunning highs. Not least 10 goals and 18 assists in the 2011/12 campaign that finally seemed to unveil the player as Cristiano Ronaldo’s heir. Yet, this proved to be an exception in six years that have otherwise largely flattered to deceive.

Flattery is the frustration. Here is a player that boasts so much and delivers far too little, a victim only rarely of the congenital British mistrust of talent, but too often a failure of his own making.

Indeed, Ferguson had come to mistrust the player late into the winter of his reign, hoping that time and maturity might work in the player’s favour; a slow developer where his predecessor Ronaldo had achieved a double figure goal tally in his third campaign with the club.

“Nani is definitely one of the best match-winners in Europe,” said the former United manager last winter. “He has an incredible talent for winning matches. We would like him to stay.” Less than a month earlier Ferguson had sought to push Nani out of the door and into Zenit’s arms. Only the player’s intervention prevented a late window transfer that would have netted Nani a sizeable increase on already substantial wages.

Then came the summer and United’s surprising decision to award Nani a new five-year contract, with a salary increase somewhere south of the player’s original demand, but solidly in the second tier of earners at United.

“I’m really pleased Nani has re-signed for the next five years,” said Moyes, with what now looks to be a modicum of disingenuity.

“He has great ability and experience beyond his 26 years. I’ve been impressed with his approach to training and look forward to working with him in the coming seasons.”

It is more likely that United simply moved to protect that value of it’s asset, with Nani’s contract due to run down in summer 2014. Still, new contact and a fresh start were offered under Moyes, only for injuries to limit the player’s time. Nani underwent a nose operation last June, which was followed in rapid succession by a groin injury that kept the winger out of United’s early Premier League games.

Then came a hamstring tear in the Reds’ defeat to Newcastle United on 7 December that has sidelined the player for three hugely frustrating months. It is a pattern that has blighted two years of Nani’s career; nine injuries in a little over 24 months, seven of which have been to the player’s ankle or hamstrings.

It is not nearly enough of an excuse over the long piece though. Inconsistency has largely been the player’s own domain, even if Ferguson persisted for too long in deploying the right-footed winger on the left where performances rarely seemed to match those on his more natural side.

There is still an opportunity for the player who joined full training for the first time in months at Carrington on Thursday. Nani’s ability to hug the touchline and deliver whipped crosses should sit well with Moyes’ tactical framework, although the Scot prefers his wide men to attack space in a manner that the winger has rarely enjoyed. Neither is the Portuguese known for the kind of defensive shift that the former Everton manager demands.

Yet, multi-faceted talent should offer the player a shot at impressing before United’s season draws to a close. Should Moyes evolve his tactics – despite, it should be said, more than a decade of contrarian evidence – than Nani is perfectly adept at cutting inside to create a narrow attacking triangle with Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. It is the role that brought so many goals and assists just three years ago.

Nani talks a good game too; one of a player who understands that his career is unlikely to progress to new heights elsewhere. It is a motivation that must stick in the coming weeks if Nani is not to be a victim of Moyes’ planned evolution this summer

“Playing at United has been a fantastic experience for me,” said Nani back in August. “When I came to the club, I never imagined the success we have enjoyed. Training every day with top players who want to win trophies every year is a great motivation to me.”

There are few guarantees though, even when the player returns to competitive action in the coming fortnight. History suggests – despite that five-year contract – that Moyes prefers a more traditional wide-man. There is little else to explain Antonio Valencia’s lengthy run in the side despite two years of poor form. After all, only David de Gea and Patrice Evra have appeared more often for United this season.

It is, however, a campaign in which Nani has scored just once – the fifth of five against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. His shooting accuracy has dipped below 30 per cent, while the assists have dried up too, with just 11 chances created in eight league games.

Yet, if this is finally the end, Nani will walk away, quite incredibly, with four Premier League medals, the League Cup and memories of that 2008 Champions League victory in Moscow. He has known glory that his talent deserves, but his application has too often failed to merit.

There is likely to be a sting of suitors too; clubs impressed with Nani’s numbers and caught on the hope that consistency will finally come. Internazionale and Juventus have seemingly tracked the winger all season, while there will be no shortage of Spanish interest outside the big two. It might just net United a decent fee; one that Moyes may, or possibly may not, wisely invest.


Josef loso - March 13, 2014 Reply

think he will do better in a narrow system

twat - March 13, 2014 Reply

Have always thought of Nani as being in the league’s top 5% for talent but in the bottom 5% for consistency. Feel pretty ambivalent about him but it seems like a massive waste of ability. Anyway, time for him to leave – wish him well.

Count_Danté - March 14, 2014 Reply

Have to agree with Twat.

On his day an amazing player but, you can’t polish a turd.

He’s had too many chances, just like Anderson, Young and Valencia that offer nothing of note and just block either Academy talent or potential purchases.

Nani’s performances against Arsenal were stunning but it appears he believed his own hype and couldn’t follow it up.

Time he cleared off.

Gomani - March 14, 2014 Reply

poor nani injury like aids that has no treatment

Doron - March 14, 2014 Reply

Could be One of the best player in the premier league, the main problem is his managers that don’ t give him the confidence and the ability to make mistakes. In my opinion he is the best player of Manchester United.

mongoletsi - March 15, 2014 Reply

In my opinion, you’re on crack.

Musach - March 14, 2014 Reply

People moan about Cleverley and Valencia being too safe and lacking in adventure. The same people are quick to slag Nani off when he tries to do a bit more than just glide away in games attempting nothing ala Valencia e.t.c

He should be given a good run in the team without having the knowledge that he will be subbed off if a trick doesn’t come off, or if he blazes over from 30 yards. I think some of those things happen because he is trying too hard to please so as to keep his position.

Some of his inadequacies are down to him of course, but he just feels like one of those players who if moved on, (26-29years old being a footballer’s prime) he would go on to be absolutely immense if he goes somewhere he can feel wanted/trusted. Just my 2 cents

Dayus D red - March 14, 2014 Reply

To say he is the most naturally talented after Jannuzaj in the team will be an unstatement. Good dribllling skill, shoot with booth feet good crossess e.t.c. C.Ronaldo once confessed that Nani is more talented than he is. It will be a tragedy if such a talent is wasted. I do hope Moyes will succeed where SAF failed for once.

twat - March 15, 2014 Reply

But talent is nothing without anything between the ears. And, unfortunately, I think he’s pretty thick. Ronaldo used to be frustrating but was intelligent enough to listen, learn and improve. It’s debatable whether Nani has progressed at all since joining and continues to play exactly the same way making the same mistakes, ad infinitum.

Hugh Mullen - March 14, 2014 Reply

Portuguese winter more like

Fidelis Feliz - March 15, 2014 Reply

In my own opinion,Nani has been the best winger Man utd have had after Cr7 left! I don’t know what poor Nani has done to deserve this.He’s been benched even when Young and Valencia are playing worse than him! He need to be given a chance and also it is time for the United fans to start believing in him.
Nani has done many great things for united in the past and we all know that he is a real match winner,so i believe it is time he has to be given a chance for him to show the stuf he’s made of,which all already knew! The poor boy is only been plagued by injuries for the past two seasons.

Subterranean Steve - March 15, 2014 Reply

Perhaps Nani is better off staying at United rather than looking to leave and facing the pain of “a sting of suitors”.

bazuka - March 18, 2014 Reply

i think nani should stay because he has more to offer can united lose a lucky player like nani.just consider the teams that are chasing this lucky player,they all know the quality in him.why should united keep a player like Ashley and nsell me,his first march nfrom injury will be a victory to united

mancmanme - March 20, 2014 Reply

I’m not saying the guy is not without problems (i once saw him in town wearing leather pants) but he has got a commodity that few possess in the current Manchester United squad in that can beat an opposition player left or right. Thes means a defender has no idea idea what he is going to do. I realise that most of the time Nani seems to have little clue either but If that penny ever drops we will have a hell of a player. Frustrating? Obviously but would I have him ahead of Young and Valencia?-All Day.

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