Why he still has a big part to play at Manchester United

Nani, Manchester United

While up until recently there might not have been many bankers when it came to Manchester United’s transfer activity, the speculation surrounding Nani’s exit from the club suggested it was all but certain that the Portuguese would be set to leave Old Trafford this month.

If you did put your house on that however, the New Year is likely to be a somewhat cold, miserable and roofless one for all involved. Last week saw Sir Alex Ferguson not so much pour cold water over speculation surrounding the winger but drench it with a fire hose.

Talking to the club’s official website, Fergie left supporters under no illusions as to where the player will be going this month, suggesting that once he’s recovered from his hamstring injury he’ll be planted straight back into the first team.

“His contract’s not up for a year and a half. Yes, absolutely [he has a future at the club]. Why would I want to let him go?” He told manutd.com.

“Obviously his people have been negotiating with [chief executive] David [Gill] about a new contract but I don’t know what stage we are at with that. But we won’t be letting him go.

“We need a Nani. He offers something different from the other players. He’s an incredible talent, the boy’s a great talent.”

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For some at Old Trafford, the news that the club have no intention of parting with arguably their most naturally gifted wide player will come as an item of real relief. But for many supporters in the red half of Manchester, such public backing of Nani will be a real double-edged sword. For many, after five years of bubbling frustration, there’s been an inescapable feeling that the 26-year-old’s career at the club has simply run its course.

But for all the inconsistencies, all the mixed bag of performances and all the realm of potential that many feel Nani has left unfulfilled, the Portuguese remains one of United’s most exquisitely talented footballers. And if he does return to the club and sign a new contract, there’s no reason why he can’t look to rebuild his Old Trafford career and make a winning return back into Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. Starting with helping his side secure a 20th Premier League title when he makes his comeback from injury.

Of course, Fergie can lavish as much praise as he likes upon his somewhat enigmatic winger, but even the most ardent of Nani’s supporters will have a job defending his performances this season. There’s not been many of them to pick from, with the ex-Sporting man racking up a paltry 11 appearances in all competitions, but when he has played, more often than not, Nani has flattered to deceive.

Before picking up the hamstring injury that’s kept him out since mid-November, the Cape Verde-born star had endured a miserable season in a United shirt and his last first team appearance against Braga in the Champions League offered a fitting synopsis for how much of his term has gone so far. Wasteful, frustrating on the ball and despite looking positive in his intentions, far too often the end-product went missing in action. At 1-0 down after 73 minutes, Nani was hauled off for Rafael. United consequently went on to win 3-1.

The problem for some supporters is that for a man that is allegedly looking for a sizeable increase in his wages for his new contract, Nani simply hasn’t earned the keep he’s looking to increase. A rumoured request for a £50,000-a-week rise on his current £80,000-a-week wages seems optimistic at best considering what the Portuguese served up for supporters for much of 2012.

But regardless of how negotiations play out between Nani and the United hierarchy – and unless he moves to Russia, it seems somewhat unlikely he’ll earn that anywhere else in Europe, let alone United – the fact is he does still have a role to play at the football club. And upon his return, he can make the difference as United fight for both domestic and European honours.

Although that can only happen if supporters finally come to terms with some of the home truths that surround their Portuguese winger. Yes, considering the natural footballing gifts that he’s been blessed with, in all likeliness Nani won’t ever fulfil the potential that so many hoped he would achieve when he first signed for the club. But there isn’t any shame in that and just because he hasn’t followed in the quite frankly impossible footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo, it doesn’t mean he isn’t still a massive asset to Manchester United.

The nature of his game suggests that when the chips are down and the team aren’t performing quite so well, the effervescent dribbles and the searing stepovers will always ensure Nani takes more stick than the more industrious Antonio Valencia or Ashley Young. But when he’s on song, his gifts are a wonderful addition to this United side.

Bar the forward duo of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, how many more players does Fergie have who can truly create something out of nothing? He remains inconsistent, but in a league that’s encapsulated by the tightest of margins, Nani represents the rarest of breeds; he’s a match-winner.

With Ashley Young currently sitting on the sidelines and Antonio Valencia struggling for form, the stage is set for a Nani comeback this month. Whether or not Ferguson is true to his word and he stays beyond the club longer than the summer, it remains to be seen. But the next six months can go a long way to determining the Portuguese’s future and if he returns from injury with the hunger and desire to earn that new contract, he might just find himself with a few medals around his neck to boot, too.

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