Is Cole set to leave Nani feeling blue?

According to the Daily Star, Joe Cole is ‘almost certain’ to sign for Manchester United this summer, with Chelsea allegedly ready to risk losing the player on a free this summer. Carlo Ancelotti is not sold on the player, and the club is prepared to offer Cole just £37k a week (60% of his current weekly wage). With Cole likely to play an advanced attacking role if he does join Manchester United, where does this leave Luis Nani?

Nani looked to be on the first flight out of Manchester Airport this summer, with his performances underwhelming to the extreme at the season’s midpoint. However, in late January, Nani appeared to be waking up, and put in some stellar performances against Hull City, Portsmouth and of course Arsenal. His being moved to the right wing seemed to have done the trick, and Nani’s status at United appeared to be on the up.

Since his purple patch in late January/early February, Nani has been infuriatingly inconsistent. Back on the left hand side against Milan on Wednesday night, the match seemed to sum up Nani’s United career. In the first half, along with several of his United teammates, he was shoddy. He gave possession away to easily, his final ball was wayward or rushed, and he lacked the requisite guile that the likes of Ronaldo and Giggs have displayed in the past. Further, his positioning was questionable, leaving far too much room behind him on United’s left side, exposing Evra. However, in the second half, his assist with the outside of his right boot was pure poetry. It was weighted and timed perfectly, and the confidence Nani took from the assist was glaring. Thereafter, Nani was popping up all over the pitch, showing quick feet, power, pace and agility.

The question is; how far will Ferguson’s patience with the Portuguese stretch? When Nani provides the sort of pass he did against Milan on Wednesday night, it makes his wastefulness even more pronounced because the players and fans know there is a player there somewhere. Could it be that United’s link with Joe Cole is the shot in the arm Nani needs?

Some have highlighted Nani’s problem as one of confidence. He clearly has ability, and yet at times looks a shadow of the player who tore Arsenal to shreds at the Emirates. Rooney has even been accused in some quarters of being too critical of the player on the pitch, with the England talisman visibly agitated when Nani makes an error. Another consideration is that some players simply take longer to develop than others. It is sometimes forgotten that when Ronaldo moved to Manchester, he was regarded as a one trick pony, all step-overs, but no end product. Darren Fletcher is another player that was widely regarded as unworthy of the red shirt. Some even suggested Ferguson favoured Fletcher owing to his being a fellow Scott, but now he is one of the first names on the team sheet, especially in Champions League games.

With the news that United are interested in Joe Cole, Nani should heed the omens coming from the press, and secure his position at Manchester United. Nani is twenty-four in November, and cannot afford to spend a season on the bench next term, watching the likes of Joe Cole push him further down the pecking order.

Perhaps the press is too critical of Nani owing to the performances of a another young Portuguese who used to ply his trade at Old Trafford. Perhaps Nani’s consistency and confidence will eventually come with time. However, Nani cost the club £17m, and Ferguson will not hesitate in looking to recoup that fee if Nani does not take this season by the scruff of the neck. Nani is no longer a boy, and for his own career, and for the sake of his club, he needs to step up, and out of the shadows.

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