What to make of the 25-year-old born in Cape Verde, applying his trade for Manchester United and Portugal affectionately known as Nani. Often ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, at times he can set the footballing world alight with flashes of brilliance. Fans often remember his superb goal against Liverpool at the beginning of his Manchester United career as a real indication of his ability.
Despite this, 2012 has been a really poor year for the winger. Following the mistake that ultimately contributed to United conceding a last minute equaliser in the Capital One Cup defeat to Chelsea last weekend, perhaps aptly for a Halloween night, Sir Alex Ferguson had his stake out ready in the post-match interview ready to condemn Nani’s horror show. His performance last Wednesday compounded what has been a pretty miserable season so far, primarily used as a bit-part player by the Red Devils boss. More Premier League substitute appearances than starts isn’t perhaps what he envisaged before the campaign kicked off, and a fourth substitute appearance of the season in a huge game like Arsenal demonstrates how far down he currently is in the pecking order.
Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Arsenal on Saturday featured two players who have become victims of their own contract situations. While Walcott’s performances haven’t warranted a Premier League start, it appears as if Sir Alex is likewise happy to leave Nani on the bench until he makes a decision on his future one way or the other. As well as his seeming mistreatment by Ferguson, I believe Nani receives a bad press all round.
I have not usually disliked Sir Alex Ferguson in the past, but his comments this season have been annoying to say the least. He had no right to stick his nose in Rio Ferdinand’s decision to not wear a Kick It Out t-shirt, he had no right to give his opinion on the FA’s enquiry into Mark Clattenburg’s alleged racist remark and when a manager should be defensive over their players, much like Pardew was of Cheick Tiote in the Wear-Tyne derby labelling the Ivorian as ‘part of the Newcastle family’, Ferguson was unfair to criticise Nani for a mistake which wouldn’t have prompted the same reaction had Paul Scholes made a similar error.
It didn’t help the Portuguese man who already seems a victim of torrents of media criticism and if we’re being honest isn’t exactly a fans’ favourite with the Manchester United faithful. It is interesting reading the Manchester United forums on the Nani situation. On the pitch much of his criticism has derided from him being an ‘unintelligent’ footballer. Several of the bloggers posted that they thought his “poor footballing brain” was down to being too instinctive and his poor execution.
I couldn’t disagree more. I think Nani is an intelligent footballer. When I’ve seen him play over the years I often think he has a good positional sense and this is exemplified by an impressive goal scoring record for a winger, which stands at 26 goals in 130 Premier League games. Additionally, many of us will remember well the goal that was given against Tottenham in October 2010 when Gomes thought they had earned a free kick for Nani to swoop in and tap the ball into an empty net. Whether people thought that Nani had cheated or not, one has to admire his assertiveness and knowledge of the rules in that situation where many had just dismissed it.
As well as a bad press, Nani is a victim of constantly striving to walk in the shadows of someone who is simply better than he is. In Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani has not only had to live up to the standards the Real Madrid player left at Manchester United, but when they take to the field for Portugal. It is the fact that both players are Portuguese and that Nani’s arrival at Old Trafford occurred when Ronaldo was at his peak, that the media touted him as ‘Ronaldo’s natural successor’. These parallels with Ronaldo have certainly contributed in tarnishing Nani’s career, almost like a son who tries to emulate in his world famous father’s footsteps. These comparisons have definitely taken their toll in Nani, and his criticism of Ronaldo for wanting all the glory amidst the confusion regarding the order the penalties were to be taken in following Portugal’s Euro 2012 exit, speaks volumes.
Needless to say, Nani has never reached the dizzy heights of Ronaldo. But his problems at Manchester United have also been compounded by another factor – the rise and rise of Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian has transformed himself from a highly rated youngster at Wigan to one of the continent’s most feared wingers, bypassing Nani in the United pecking order in the process. Valencia’s good form has made people stop and wonder why Nani has never performed at the same level.
Despite being frustrating in games, there are several reasons as to why Nani receives a bad press at Old Trafford. Aside from being a goal scorer to which I previously alluded to, he can be explosive and unpredictable and a genuine match-winner. I think that the term match-winner can only be applied otherwise to Robin van Persie, Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney at Manchester United. Speaking of Rooney, Nani also brings the best out of the England international. He created many assists for Rooney last season, and 12 in total, just one behind Antonio Valencia. Finally, he loves Manchester United and while some players, Arshavin comes to mind, give 60 per cent in a game, Nani always gives the proverbial ‘110%’ for his side.
Also, his high level of performances have been over the course of five seasons. This in my opinion makes him a better player than Ashley Young in many ways as Young has had just one good season at the very top, and even then he displayed some mediocrity.
For all these reasons alone I think that the negative coverage Nani has been receiving is unfair, and perhaps we should appreciate the good work he has done for Manchester United rather than the criticisms he receives from his manager, the press and supporters alike.