A little faith in Nani could go a long way

Sunday’s dismal performance against a very average Blackburn side, has now well and truly put the nail into the coffin of Manchester United’s season. While much of the dissent seemed to be aimed at everyone’s least favourite Bulgarian striker, there were a few among the United fans I watched the game with, aiming their venom at a certain Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha.

Da Cunha- or Nani as I like to call him, has been the subject of almost as much debate as Dimitar Berbatov by United fans when it comes to whether he really is good enough to be at Old Trafford.

In certain games in his United career Nani’s been amazing, showing a wide range of skills, a great shot and rapid pace. In others he been, how can I tactfully put this? Bloody awful.

Following his arrival, Nani started the 2007/08 campaign for United by ending a run of two draws and a defeat with a sublime goal against Spurs.

Watching him against Arsenal in the FA cup at Old Trafford a couple of seasons ago, he looked the business, tormenting the Gunners back four, scoring a great goal and even finding time to upset William Gallas by basically taking the p*ss when United were 4-0 up.

Another goal a few weeks later as a substitute to seal victory against Liverpool seemed to indicate that Nani, while not quite ready to oust Cristiano Ronaldo from the team was at least a worthy understudy.

Nani’s introduction into the 2008 Champions League final and subsequent successful penalty made his debut season one to remember. Although it hadn’t been perfect, and there were certain areas that needed working on, it had been a good solid start.

The following season, many –myself included- expected Nani to improve on some of the inconsistency he’d shown in the previous year and become a first-team regular or at least continue to be a useful squad member.

If anything though last season saw Nani go backwards in terms of forcing his way into the team. The early problems he’d shown signs of at Old Trafford- poor decision making, greediness, and more often than not simply running into trouble- actually got worse, ironically at a time when United needed him more than ever.

The whole Wayne Rooney, Ronaldo, merry-go-round in the wing positions at the back end of last season could have been easily avoided had Nani shown any sort of form to make Sir Alex Ferguson pick him for the big games. But to put it simply – he hadn’t. There were no surprises to see that he was an unused substitute in the Champion’s League defeat to Barcelona.

This season was a mixed start for Nani as he opened the scoring in the Charity, sorry ‘Community’ Shield, then dislocated his shoulder. He managed to return quickly but other than glimpses of his ability, such as a great free-kick against Wigan he had a largely uninspiring start.

Then came what many believed to be the end of Nani’s United career when he seemed to criticise Ferguson in an interview with a Portuguese newspaper. Nani said:

“Ferguson is a very complicated man.

“He’s tough. If things are all right, then they are all right. But when he thinks something is wrong, everything is screwed.

“He can go from complimenting you to just plain trashing you in a matter of minutes. Has it happened to me? Hell, yes! He’ll say ‘Nani, how could you miss this or this’?”

That sort of outburst would undoubtedly have been the end for Nani had Ferguson not believed the winger had something worth trying to keep at Old Trafford. After a supposed ‘heart-to-heart’ in which Fergie probably thanked Nani for his comments and apologised profusely for his moody behaviour, the Portuguese star was given the chance to prove his worth again.

Barnstorming performances against the likes of Hull, Pompey-admittedly not exactly an amazing feat- Man City, Arsenal and now Bayern Munich helped to turn many United fan’s opinions around about Nani, he looked as though he could live up to his early promise.

The problem with Nani, is that he can be very inconsistent and quite erratic –although that’s arguably the same thing. He followed up the great performances against Arsenal and Pompey by getting himself needlessly sent off against Villa which not only undoubtedly prevented United winning the game but scuppered the run of form he was having. His performance in Milan was also pretty poor and United looked much more threatening when Antonio Valencia replaced him.

Since then he’s looked pretty impressive, other than Bayern away and Blackburn, where the entire team was below-par, Nani has been a real threat. It may sound crazy but one of the matches which was crying out for him and may have ended up differently had he started, was Chelsea.

Nani always looks a capable of something special –even if sometimes his end product frustrates- and with the Chelsea full backs occasionally being exposed 20 minutes was nowhere near long enough for him to really make his full impact felt.

The impressive debut season of Valencia has also made Nani’s time all the more difficult as Fergie often prefers the Ecuadorian on the right wing leaving Nani battling it out with Giggs for a chance to play on the left.

My point is this, what Nani really needs and what could benefit United both short and long-term is a full run in the team from now until the end of the season. Give him the chance to prove he’s good enough to be a first-teamer regardless of who else is fit. This could help prepare Nani for next season knowing that he is an important member of the team rather than feeling he’s unwanted. If he’s given a decent uninterrupted run he may just show everyone why Fergie forked out so much money for him- apparently more than United paid for Ronaldo- and even move out of the shadows of his more esteemed countryman.

Nani is a confidence player-like most wingers really- and dropping him for certain games may  make his confidence start to drain away slightly, he could even feel that he is never going to make it at Old Trafford.

Against Bayern Munich last Wednesday, Nani was immense putting in the sort of shift he’s been threatening to do since he arrived at United.

Against Blackburn, he did not do himself justice and it seemed quite a few fans were ready to turn on him-again. I found myself defending him, after all, for the Bayern game he ran his heart out- at one point it looked like he was trying to use a corner as an excuse to have his own little half-time. At least against Blackburn he at times looked threatening, more so than quite a few of his team mates who’d not even played on Wednesday night.

Let’s not forget, Nani was the man who more than anyone else stepped up for Portugal when Ronaldo was injured helping them qualify for the World Cup, with match-winning performances in the play-offs. If he can do it for Portugal, maybe given an extended chance he can do it for United as well.

Read more of Justin’s work at his excellent blog ‘Name on the Trophy’