Manchester United may have a selection of some of the finest wingers currently plying their trade within the Premier League, although such a claim is rendered meaningless if they don’t function as effectively as they should do. And in Nani and Antonio Valencia, Old Trafford possesses perhaps two of the most disappointing performers of the season so far.
To describe their respective terms as disappointing is merely a by-product of the exceedingly high standards that the wing duo have set themselves during their time under Sir Alex Ferguson. In Valencia, United have a player who racked up a magnificent 13 assists in the league last season, on the way to receiving both the fans’ and players’ player of the year award. Likewise, in Nani the club has one of the most naturally gifted attacking outlets in the entire division.
Although this season, despite the club’s searing 12-point lead in the Premier League, neither of their mercurial wing talents can lay claim to playing an integral role in what’s likely to become Manchester United’s 20th league title.
For Valencia, while he hasn’t been short of appearances for Ferguson’s side, he’s most certainly be lacking in productivity. With 11 games left to play in the league, the Ecuador international has racked up just the four assists and has yet to put the ball in the back of the net, either.
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In the case of Nani, the 2012-13 season has been even worse, with the Portuguese winger suffering terribly at the hands of both injury and most predominantly, poor form. The former-Sporting man has managed a paltry 10 starts and with discussions continuing to stall over a new deal, his future at Old Trafford has looked increasingly hazy within recent weeks.
And if things were already looking tough for the pair, the January deal to bring Crystal Palace’s prodigious Wilfried Zaha to the club has left them both with plenty to ponder as we enter the home straight of the Premier League season. But while you would have thought Nani might be the one with all the work to do to salvage his Old Trafford career, despite being the overwhelmingly more popular figure, Valencia would do well to raise his game, also.
Because for all work-ethic, wicked deliveries and consistency that usually adorns Valencia’s game, it’s when that last trait goes missing, that the former Wigan Athletic man tends to look really quit exposed. And for all the graft and guile that he might have in his game, there’s one trait that he’ll most probably never add to his game and that’s one of a matchwinner. Something that Nani has in abundance.
Indeed, for as difficult as Valencia has found things at Old Trafford in recent months, it’s hard to buy into the concept that Nani can throw himself above his wing rival in the pecking order simply on the basis of one productive cameo appearance. The Portuguese enjoyed a stunning cameo the other week against Reading in the FA Cup, coming off the bench to score one and set another up as the Red Devils came out 2-1 winners.
And while his finish was by no means of the sort of magical variety that we’ve been used to since his move from Porto in 2007, it was an example of the sort of match-winning quality he can bring to this United team. And even if he does tend to lack the consistency of an Antonio Valencia, it’s still an attribute that Sir Alex Ferguson would be loath to loose at the end of the season.
“Nani is definitely one of the best match-winners in Europe,” he said, following the Reading game.
“He scores incredible goals. He has an incredible talent for winning matches. We would like him to stay.”
Of course, given the winger’s perilous contractual situation – Nani’s current deal expires in 2014 and he’s yet to agree with the club on renewed terms – Ferguson’s admiration for the 26-year-old’s ability will be rendered redundant should he not sign on the dotted line by this summer.
But where as Nani’s qualities as one of the ‘best match-winners’ in Europe will always have relevance in any team, you can’t help but feel that United’s success this season without much in they way of a contribution from Valencia, leaves the Lago Agrio-born talent in a weaker position, should the club look to trim one of its winners of the books.
One bad season doesn’t necessarily make a bad player, but with the arrival of Zaha imminent and the team doing just fine without his steady slew of assists, Valencia’s standing within this United squad feels in a far weaker position to that of this time last term.
The argument here would be that Valencia offers far more as a collective to Manchester United, then the sometimes frustratingly inconsistent Nani and as tough as the Ecuador man has found it in recent months, it’s hardly as if his Portuguese counterpart has offered anything more this term.
But although there roles, ethos and positions within this team may differ, if it’s a straight fight between the consistency of Antonio Valencia and the match-winning nous of Nani, there’s no real guarantees who might come out on top, should run have to leave the club. But with Nani looking to finally be hitting something resembling a period of form, Valencia would do well to buck his ideas up as we enter the final third of the Premier League season.