If something works, then one should try the same formula again. When Manchester United signed Nani for just over £17m there was a collective groan across the Premier League of déjà vu. Here was a young Portugese winger signed from Sporting Lisbon, arriving with little more than a big reputation to live up to and a hefty price tag. There was pace, trickery and a hunger for goals and the limelight. It all sounded very familiar.
By the time Nani arrived at Old Trafford, it was 2007, United were champions and Cristiano Ronaldo was ripping teams singularly to shreds. No player has ever taken apart the league’s teams in such a regular and relentless fashion as Ronaldo did during his time in England, and this was to be, and will be throughout his Man Utd career, Nani’s biggest curse.
Nani has yet to hit any sort of heights. There must be a constant sense of frustration amongst the Man Utd fans that watch him on a regular basis; the occasions on which he has produced moments of brilliance make the rarity of them all the more infuriating. During his first two seasons Nani could use the shadow of Ronaldo’s wing as an excuse and a burden to offer reasons for the stuttering start to his time at United, but once Ronaldo made his move to Madrid, Nani was expected to fill the chasm that Ronaldo left.
Part of the pressure on Nani can’t be shifted; there are just unavoidable similarities such as their position, their nationality, their previous club etc. but there are times when I think that the younger of the two doesn’t help himself. When I see a mop of over-greased hair, standing wide-legged over a dead-ball, taking a deep breath of pantomime proportions, I wonder whether Nani is deliberately trying to remind everyone what they are missing out on. It is only a matter of seconds, when the ball thumps into the wall, rather than violently dip into the top corner, that we all come back to our senses and realise that Ronaldo did indeed leave these shores.
In his last three seasons at United, Ronaldo scored 91 goals in all competitions. Comparing anyone to that record is probably a bit unfair, a player could have an amazing record goal-scoring record and churn out scintillating performances and still not manage to reach that Ronaldo did.
If Nani hadn’t moved to Old Trafford then it is conceivable that he would have avoided any comparisons with Portugal’s captain, but turning down a move to Man Utd is easier said than done.
Nani must now accept that this is the cross he must bear throughout his career, it has become inescapable. It is difficult to know how long Ferguson will persist with Nani, certainly he would have hoped that Nani had progressed more than he has done so far, thus becoming a more dependable player. Nani is a prime candidate when looking around the team to see who will take the goal-scoring burden off Wayne Rooney’s shoulders, and at some point he is going to have to deliver. If he doesn’t then he make have to look for fresh pastures, and he certainly won’t be commanding an £80m fee.
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