Nani, Bale, Johnson…who gets the nod?

He’s been good, really good, but the best? Nani has probably been Manchester United’s finest player this season, fulfilling potential that we could all see, but never really got hold of. Well something has got hold of the Portuguese winger because he is producing the best form of his career. One of the reasons we love the Premier League however, is that it is awash with talent, and Nani, is not the only wide man shredding full-backs to pieces.

As far as I am concerned, there have been three other contenders so far this season: Florent Malouda, Adam Johnson and Gareth Bale. There are plenty of other candidates but for a variety of reasons they are struggling. Aaron Lennon is a ghost, walking through the shadow of last season’s player, Theo Walcott started magnificently but has been curtailed, and as good as Matthew Etherington has been, he is just that fraction off the standards of the first three.

Adam Johnson has been class when playing for Man City (and England) this season, the problem is that he hasn’t been playing as much as he (or I for that matter) would like. In a squad as competitive as City’s that was always going to be an issue, but I still believe what he has produced warrants a greater number of starts.

Gareth Bale is one of the most exciting players in the league at the moment. He has lost the self-consciousness of playing at full-back and having to adhere to defensive duties with reluctance. Pushed forward he has been like slaloming greyhound, released from his traps. His volley against Stoke is – no arguments please – the goal of the season so far, and anyone that believes otherwise can send in a photograph of them trying to volley a ball, while standing, when it’s five foot off the ground.

And then there is Florent Malouda. While wingers are supposed to be supplying the ammunition, West London’s highest cheekbones have been firing them in of his own accord with ruthless ease. Six goals already this term (joint top scorer with Berbatov and Drogba) has made up for the injury to Frank Lampard.

To say that Nani is becoming the best winger in the league implies that he must have attributes of that and beyond his competitors. And what do we want our wingers to possess? The ability to beat men, at pace, with the ball never more than half a yard from their next touch; there must be a final product, whether sweeping in a cross, of finishing themselves. Can we say that Nani has these qualities more than the likes of Bale and Malouda? They all can boast these skills, and the question will be over what period of time? Right now, I personally, would put Malouda at the top of the pile, but then Nani and Bale have time on their side (23 and 21 respectively compared to 30-year-old Malouda).

Nani has had a couple of years struggling to live up to pressure of playing for Manchester United, and adapting to the Premier League. But the story is a familiar one for Malouda and Bale, who took time to bloom. Johnson is still raw, but all are capable of becoming the ‘league’s best winger’; it will be a matter of having to wait to see what paths their careers take. And after all, maybe we shouldn’t even be entertaining such a conversation, I mean, it feels sacrilegious talking about it while Ryan Giggs still graces the Premier League’s pitches.

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