So no pressure then. Ryan Giggs may not have said exactly that Nani would be the ‘next Ronaldo’, but certainly implied that the winger is beginning to blossom into a player as important as the great ego was at Old Trafford. What Giggs actually said was:
“I think Nani is ready to step up to that next level now. He has always been a match-winner but he needs to do it consistently.
“This season he has already made seven or eight goals and scored a couple but he can do better as well and improve and there is more to come.
“He’s definitely beginning to add something that perhaps we lacked since Cristiano left and he’s filling that gap better now. “What he needs to do now is add more goals to his game. He needs to score 20 goals a season and make 20 goals. If he does that – and he is capable of it – that is all you can ask from a wide player.”
Certainly Nani seems to be a far better player than in previous seasons. Even I, as one of his harshest critics, have been impressed with what he is producing at the moment. And there is no reason for his form, and progression, not only to continue, but to improve. In the league alone, two goals (both good ones; against West Ham, and at Bolton) have been supplemented by six assists (more than any other player so far this season).
Ronaldo’s shadow has loomed, and will continue to do so, over the young winger. The mere fact that their position and nationality are the same, are enough for those comparisons to continue. It will be something that Nani is used to, and may finally be able to use as impetus to drive him on, rather than a burden that weighs him down.
But we must acknowledge a sense of perspective: Cristiano Ronaldo was a freak of nature in the Premier League. No one player has decimated teams in the way that Ronaldo did during his last three years at United. Henry was pretty relentless, and Drogba is unplayable when in the groove, but for sheer consistency of performance, I have never seen anything like Ronaldo in the Premier League. Even if you took his goal tally alone (23, 42, 26), that wouldn’t tell the full story. Asking Nani to score 20 goals, as well as 20 assists, is a stiff ask; half that would be a very commendable return for a midfielder.
Giggs’ intention was obviously to instil faith in his teammate; show that they all believe he is capable of being the very best, and that the team now looks to him as one of the players to make something happen out of nothing. How much Nani will have wanted yet another comparison to Ronaldo is questionable, but like I said, it is nothing new to him.
While Nani has indeed developed into a potent weapon for Sir Alex Ferguson, he is by no means the finished article, and there is still work to be done (by both his and Giggs’ admission). It is still early on in the season, and still relatively early in his United career, which at this current juncture, is heading in the right direction. But it may do the player some good not to give such a high target to meet. He could never reach the heights of Ronaldo, and still have an incredible career, there is no shame in that. But in terms of his importance to the United set-up, he is certainly growing in stature. United and their fans will hope that growth continues.
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