Tag Nani

Tag Nani

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.

Nani not ok as transfer looms

June 20, 2013 Tags: Reads 12 comments
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There seems little to speculate in the transfer of Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha away from Old Trafford this summer; a performance in its final act. The winger’s destination and magnitude of fee Manchester United collects in the process is that is left to play out. After all, Nani’s transfer has been  an open secret after the 26-year-old’s least effective season at the club.

Seemingly bent on driving the player  away from the club six years after a £17 million deal brought Nani to Manchester, United will probably take a much-reduced fee for the player who has little more than 12 months left on his contract. The proposed renewal, on the negotiating table for more than two years, has never been signed, with clear blue water been the player and club on valuation.

And with Monaco, Juventus and Galatasaray reportedly interested in the winger it seems this summer will finally end half-a-dozen frustrating years. With Nani goes a huge talent, almost completely unfulfilled since that 2007 move from Sporting.

United’s willingness to take far less than the £25 million Zenit St. Petersburg reportedly bid last winter says much. While the player’s entourage talked up a £160,000 per week contract in the autumn, United offered barely half for a player whose numbers have been good – the past campaign excepted – but whose performances are the epitome of inconsistency.

The casual flick gone wrong, a corner misplaced, a pass when the shot was on, and the strike taken with the team-mate well placed – Nani is a boy in a man’s skin, a player little developed in six campaigns under Sir Alex Ferguson’s tutelage. It is a rare story of the great Scot’s failure.

And so the negotiations begin, with Turkish champions Galatasaray offering just £6 million for the player this week – a sum seemingly rejected by new Old Trafford supremo Edward Woodward.

“We offered €7 million for him, but they didn’t accept,” said Galatasaray club chairman Unal Aysal. “We can’t give more than this. We are not going to follow Nani anymore. We can’t give more than €7 million for him. They want €10 million. Because of this he is not on our transfer list anymore.”

Meanwhile, Jorge Mendes’ Gestifute agency is actively hawking the player around leading clubs in Spain, Italy and France. Cimbom might be reluctant to part with more than £8 million for the 62-cap international, but it is a sum well within newly enriched Monaco’s budget. And while Nani rejected a move to Russia last winter the winger’s fall is such that his is a career on hold until a move materialises.

None of this is news, of course, although Nani’s decline is all the more disappointing following a productive campaign in 2011/12. While the player’s performances have always been erratic, the player contributed 12 goals and 13 assists to United’s cause as the Reds fell just short of claiming a 20th league title in 2011/12.

Those numbers are hard to ignore, and hugely expensive to replicate.

But just seven Premier League starts, four shots on goal, two assists and one goal tell the tale of a player no longer the productive creative hub. With just nine chances created from open play, passing accuracy below 80 per cent, and more than 40 per cent of attempted dribbles resulting in a loss of possession, Nani has rapidly evolved from match-winner to liability.

Yet, the player’s departure leaves United short in a area that became a significant point of failure in Ferguson’s squad last season. With Antonio Valencia out of sorts, Ashley Young injured for much of the campaign and Ryan Giggs ageing with some grace, United secured the Premier League despite an obvious weakness in wide areas.

The incoming Wilfried Zaha, who enjoyed an outstanding campaign for Crystal Palace in the south Londoners’ promotion season, may fill some of the void. But surely only a part, with the 20-year-old is still raw, and completely inexperienced at the highest level. Nimble feet and an eye for goal will ensure Zaha is a firm fans’ favourite in time, but the step up to Premier League level is always accompanied by culture shock.

Then there is Bébé, whose failure at Old Trafford is of such infamy that the winger’s name will forever be associated with outlandish mediocrity – a deal rotten from the start that began and will surely end with the aforementioned super-agent, Mendes.

Remarkably, Bébé’s reputation in Portugal is positive after a successful loan spell at Rio Ave in the latter half of the season, with Nani’s former club Sporting reportedly prepared to do a permanent deal to take the player home. Not unlike Nani, United will take a huge loss on Bébé when Mendes finally uncovers a buyer.

That is for later later this summer though, when United finally buries one of the most embarrassing episodes of Ferguson’s 26-year-long reign.

In the near term Nani’s future should also be resolved. “I have not yet decided where I am going or if I am going,” Nani told RTP last week. “In the next few days I will decide my future.”

Or to be more accurate: it will be determined for him.

Questions of right and left

April 2, 2013 Tags: , , Reads 52 comments

It has not been a good week for right-wingers; not least new Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio, who has taken significant media heat for his less than conventional political views. Little wonder, given that the Italian once labelled fascist dictator Benito Mussolini a  “very principled, ethical individual” who was “deeply misunderstood”. Those who died at the dictator’s hand may disagree.

But that’s a digression. Over at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson also has a problem with his right-wing. And his left. The one-time socialist, whose team has struggled in wide areas all campaign.

The season-long patchy form and fitness of Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young poses plenty of questions as the season draws to a close.

Manchester United’s FA Cup defeat to Chelsea on Monday night emphasised the problem once again, with those of a more charitable nature describing Nani’s performance as ‘rusty’. Fair enough, the Portuguese has spent the past fortnight on the sidelines.

Indeed, injury and questionable form has restricted former Sporting player to just 14 starts in all competitions this season. Hardly the progression expected of the 25-year-old after Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in summer 2009.

Such has been the winger’s fall that Nani’s is a career on hold; at least until a summer transfer to whomever bids the highest materialises. That Ferguson was prepared to sanction the winger’s departure in the winter window, to Zenit St Petersburg  of all places, should leave the player in little doubt that his future lies away from Old Trafford.

United will take far less than the £25 million Zenit reportedly bid in the winter simply to see Nani leave after a frustrating six year period in Manchester.  With him will go a huge talent, too often unfulfilled.

There is a similar story, of injury and poor form, to be told about Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young this year. While Valencia’s confidence seems unswervingly shot, Young has featured far too little this season due to persistent spells on the sidelines.

Valencia, such a powerhouse during United’s unsuccessful title challenge last season, has dropped off the boil so acutely that questions about the player’s true fitness will surely be asked during the summer. Rumours that the Ecuadorian regularly plays through a mystery injury appear more prescient with each tentative performance.

There is surely far more to come from a player who contributed 15 assists last season.

Meanwhile, Young has rarely garnered positive reviews from the Stretford End masses, and can do little to change the widespread belief that his is a talent born of mediocrity. Especially if he is rarely fit enough to play – the former Aston Villa man has started just 17 games in all competitions this season. Few of them with any genuine impact, cynics might add.

Tough though the assessment, Young was hardly destined to be more than squad filler at Old Trafford, although Ferguson’s shortage in wide areas has certainly focussed the manager’s thoughts on the limited Englishman.

None of this is news, of course, although Nani’s fall from grace is all the more disappointing following a productive campaign in 2011/12. While the player’s performances have always been inconsistent, the 62-cap international contributed 12 goals and 13 assists to United’s cause as the Reds fell just short of claiming a 20th league title.

Those numbers are hard to ignore, and hugely expensive to replicate.

No wonder the manager has deployed a plethora of stars to the wings this year – many out of position. While Valencia and Nani have shared right-wing duties, Young, Ryan Giggs, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa have each played on the left. It is not a stretch to say that few have shone.

Ferguson’s difficulty is both in finding the right blend of players for the new season, given that exciting youngster Wilfried Zaha joins from Crystal Palace on 1 July, and how to extract more from those that remain at Old Trafford. After all Zaha is completely untested at the highest level, leaving Nani’s departure to effectively weaken United’s squad.

It should come as no surprise if the Scot bolsters his wide options with another signing, although Robin van Persie’s large acquisition fee and heftier wages may restrict Ferguson’s wiggle room during the summer window.

Getting the balance right – personnel and tactics – is a lesson Ferguson may take from the season, despite United’s huge Premier League lead.

The Scot, fired up by City’s last-gasp title winning foray last May, has constructed a team that will surely reclaim domestic hegemony with something to spare. But there has also been a compromise between defensive solidity and attacking prowess; balance, and squeezing his best players into an idiosyncratic tactical construct.

Indeed, it is two new signings that have seemingly disrupted United’s wingers as much as any injury.

Kagawa, so brilliant at ’10’ behind Robert Levendowski for Borussia Dortmund, started the campaign for United in a similar position. He will almost certainly finish the campaign having been deployed wide more often than through the middle.

Meanwhile, Robin van Persie’s form and quality ensures that Ferguson’s default formation includes both the Dutchman and Rooney, even if the former Evertonian is deployed in a shadow role.

Yet, even this simple tactical compromise – deploying two strikers and not three central midfielders – caused severe knock-on effects during the early part of the campaign, where United struggled to retain clean sheets or defensive composure. That would come as the season wore on and the Scot increasingly sought to compromise width by tucking one or more winger infield.

van Persie may have won United the Premier League, but his acquisition constrained Rooney, Nani, Valencia, Kagawa, and to a lesser extent, Young.

All of which says nothing of the choices that Ferguson needs to make in central midfield, where perhaps only Michael Carrick will emerge from the season with reputation fully enhanced.

Tom Cleverley has progressed, but must surely add goals and creativity to his neat and energetic approach, if he is to fully embody Paul Scholes’ central midfield berth. Anderson, and for different reasons, Darren Fletcher, may not be seen in a United shirt beyond the summer. Scholes will certainly retire.

An acquisition – of the rampant physical central midfield type – will do Ferguson’s hopes of adding a third European triumph before retirement a significant boost.

Yet, it is on the wings where Ferguson’s deepest concern will surely lie  this summer after a  season or poor reliability and much reduced productivity. Injury has of course played a part, but it has always been a risky approach to leave one’s hopes and dreams to the music of chance.

The strategist in Mussolini might agree. Having been caught unaware of the coming media storm, Di Canio certainly will.

Keep your shirt on

September 18, 2012 Tags: Reads 13 comments

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.

Nani can thank talent and Rooney for bumper deal

March 6, 2012 Tags: Reads 14 comments

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.

Brilliant Nani told to focus on Reds

December 23, 2010 Tags: Reads 3 comments

Nani’s progress over the past year is remarkable, sSo much so that the Portuguese winger confidently expects Manchester United to win the title, while being nominated for next year’s Ballon D’Or. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson, keen to keep his player’s feet on the ground, has warned the 24-year-old that success with United comes first.

Indeed, Nani is arguably in the top three most influential players at the club. On this season’s evidence he is United’s single most creative force. Not that the winger has ever been short in a measure of confidence; just application, with maturity coming late to the former Sporting Lisbon player.

“It is easier for me to stand out now that Cristiano Ronaldo has left,” said Nani somewhat frankly week.

“He is a fantastic player who got all the attention and deservedly so. I loved playing alongside him and we got on well. But it is also true that when he left it freed up space for other players to shine. I saw an opportunity to demonstrate my qualities and to show the people here what I can do.

“I know I can become a better player and my aim now is to get on the list of nominees for next year’s Ballon d’Or – the world player of the year prize.”

As much as Nani has improved, from an eternally frustrating talent to one with genuine end product, he is some way short of the truly destructive force that is Ronaldo, or indeed the mesmeric skills of Lionel Messi. Let alone exhibit the consistent influence of this year’s Ballon D’Or favourite Xavi Hernandez.

Ronaldo, for example, is La Liga’s Pichichi with 17 goals in 16 games this season. Messi meanwhile has 25 goals in all competitions. At this rate the brilliant Argentinian will score 50 in the campaign – a truly stunning feat.

The question is, of course, whether Nani can improve further, winning the biggest games for United at home and abroad. Does the 24-year-old have the raw talent to match Ronaldo and can he add even greater end product to his game? Certainly Nani has a long way to go if the stats prove anything if the winger is match his peers at the very top of the game.

In 2008/9 the winger scored 10 and created four in 31 games for the club and country in all competitions. The stat was eight and nine respectively in 33 last season. Good but certainly not great by any measure.

Improvement is coming – to date Nani has nine goals and 11 assists at close to the half way mark in the current campaign. If an end season target of 20 goals and a similar number of assists is any measure, it will surely put the player in the frame for domestic personal honours.

Global recognition could follow but perhaps only if United does well in the Champions League this season. That of course comes with no guarantee.

But person honours are a goal that Ferguson has little time for and certainly not when it comes to Nani who is only now, more three seasons into his United career, is beginning to justify the £17 million transfer fee.

“I am not too worried about the Ballon D’Or to be honest,” said the United manager.

“His aim should be to be successful here. The ability was always there. He has got a tremendous instinct for the game. He is two-footed, quick and brave. He never misses a training session and always wants to play.”

“When we bring young players to the club, you hope maturity comes quickly. In the case of Nani, it has been a bit slower. Now we are seeing some good signs. He is improving, as players do as they go along here, and hopefully it will continue.”

Ferguson is right of course. Statistics are one thing, maturity and consistency quite another. Nani is a star at United but arguably because this is the weakest pool of talent at the club for the past five years. Add Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and younger versions of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, and an in-form Wayne Rooney to the squad, and suddenly Nani is no longer a star asset.

It’s something, for all the bravado, Nani will do well to remember in the months to come.

Nani: a modern winger

November 1, 2010 Tags: Reads 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?

Reds’ World Cup stars dropping like flies

June 8, 2010 Tags: , , International 1 comment

Rio Ferdinand’s withdrawal from England’s World Cup squad with knee ligament damage was followed today by Portugal’s Nani, who suffered a bruised collar bone in training. Manchester United’s World Cup contingent is now seven; heartache for the players who have dropped out to date, delight for manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Nani picked up the injury on Friday in Lisbon after an attempted overhead kick during training. The winger, who was in superb form for United in the second half of last season, fell heavily before being rushed to hospital for tests.

With neither injury to Ferdinand nor Nani considered long-term, both players could be fit for pre-season training, which begins in Chicago on 12 July. Ferdinand will miss four to six weeks, while Nani’s exclusion from Portugal’s squad was only confirmed after three days of medical tests.

“Following the injury suffered by Nani, which involves his left collar bone, and daily assessment of the injury and additional medical tests, we have concluded that the player is no longer competitive,” said a Portuguese FA statement today.

“The medical file will be sent to Manchester United’s medical team. In light of the report, the Portuguese Football Federation, taking into account the FIFA regulations for the 2010 World Cup, will call-up Ruben Amorim as a replacement.”

While Ferdinand remains in South Africa with Fabio Capello’s England squad, offering the travelling media ample photo opportunities and his colleagues moral support, Nani has already been replaced in Portugal’s squad by midfielder Amorim.

Nani joined colleagues on the sidelines for Portugal’s match with Mozambique at Johannesburg’s Bidvest Wanderers Stadium this afternoon, before returning to Lisbon later today, according to local media reports.

Rio Ferdinand

United’s World Cup contingent is one of the smallest parties from the Old Trafford club in recent years, reflecting the retirements of Paul Scholes, Edwin van der Sar and Ryan Giggs, and long-term injuries to Michael Owen, Anderson and Owen Hargreaves.

Indeed, Ferguson will not complain that so few of his squad will compete in the tournament this summer, with only Javier Hernandéz, Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, Zoran Tosic, Patrice Evra and Park Ji-Sung likely to start games, with Michael Carrick a probable substitute against USA on Saturday.

The smart money says that of the group the English, French and Serbian players are most likely to qualify for the tournament’s knock-out stages and therefore miss United’s pre-season tour to the US, Canada and Mexico in its entirety.

Ferguson has promised to give each player 28 days rest before beginning an individual pre-season programme as has been customary after previous tournaments.

“I’m going to have a big squad of first-team players,” Ferguson said recently.

“So it’s not a problem for me. I know, the experience of World Cups in the past, having to deal with the aftermath of it is always difficult. They need a rest.”

Meanwhile, Serbia defender Vidic could miss the Bella Ovi’s opening fixture against Ghana in Pretoria with a virus, according to coach Radomir Antic. The White Eagles are considered one of the tournament’s dark horses, with a side built on an outstanding back-four marshalled by Vidic.

Nani signs new four-year deal

March 26, 2010 Tags: Shorts No comments

Nani has signed a new four-year deal with Manchester United that will keep the former Sporting Lisbon player at Old Trafford until 2014. The 23-year-old winger has experienced a renaissance in recent weeks after a disappointing start to the season that culminated in rumours of the player’s departure in the January transfer window.

The new deal will increase the player’s wages, previously in the third tier of earners at Untied, to an estimated £65,000 per week.

“I am delighted to have signed a new contract. It has been like a dream come true to play for Manchester United,” the Portuguese winger told club mouthpiece ManUtd.com

“The coaching staff have taught me so much about the game and I’m playing alongside some of the best players in the world. I’m looking forward to winning many more trophies with this team.”

Nani, who has appeared 96 times for United, including 72 starts, with 12 goals for the club. He also has 33 caps for Portugal and is likely to feature in his nation’s squad for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa this summer.

“Nani is an emerging talent within the team and has developed tremendously since joining the club,” added Sir Alex Ferguson.

“We are delighted he has signed a new contract and I am sure he will have a long and successful future here at Manchester United.”

It’s a certainty very few fans held with conviction just a few months ago.

Nani: I never wanted to leave

March 20, 2010 Tags: Shorts No comments

Nani says he has grown in his three years at Manchester United and never wanted to leave the club despite speculation that the former Sporting Lisbon winger would move during the January transfer window. The Portuguese player has suffered a frustrating season at Old Trafford in which fans have questioned his value to the team

“When you come to Manchester United, you have to learn about what it means and what it takes to succeed here,” said Nani who cost United more than £16 million in 2007.

“A couple of years ago, I was only thinking about playing for myself and just playing to enjoy my football. But now, I know that I can’t play like that because it is all about winning trophies for the team rather than individual success.

“At United, you have to play together, you have to think together, you have to do everything together. I have learned a lot about that and that’s why I have changed.

“This club is good at making players grow up and learn to be a man, to be a player.”

Nani, consigned to the sidelines for a month during December, came back into the team to critical acclaim after a series of good performances against Burnley, Hull City, Manchester City and Arsenal.

“That happened to me a couple of months ago, when I began to think more about the team and what it means to play for United. Now, I’m feeling very happy and strong,” he added.

“This is my third year here and I believe I am doing well now. I want to do more and more and show that I am deserving of my place at this club.

“Did I want to leave? No, I never thought like that. I have always been strong in my head and confident in my ability as a player and I have always had confidence about being a United player, ever since I came to the club.”