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The Curious Case of Nani

Back in the summer of 2007 there was a lot of hype around a young winger at Sporting Lisbon. Cristiano Ronaldo had just had his breakthrough season at Manchester United and the hype suggested there was a ‘left sided Ronaldo’ at Sporting. The football world was abuzz and rumours abounded that many of Europe’s top clubs from Barcelona to Real Madrid to Tottenham Hotspur wanted to sign the young man. His name? Nani. In the end, Manchester United secured his services for the princely sum of £17.3 million (according to Sporting Lisbon). The comparisons with Ronaldo were inevitable as he was a winger, Portuguese and a product of the much vaunted Sporting youth academy, but they were also wide of the mark. After all, how can one measure up to the most naturally gifted player of his generation? Nevertheless, much was expected of Nani.

Nani’s first season in England was a successful one for Manchester United as they won the Premier League and Champions League. Nani’s season started promisingly with some fine performances and top drawer goals against Tottenham and Middlesbrough. The highlight of his season came in an FA Cup against Arsenal at Old Trafford in which he made a mockery of Arsene Wenger’s team, arrogantly showboating to the point where William Gallas wildly kicked out at him out of frustration. It was clear to see the young Portuguese had plenty of talent.

In the Champions League final he also showed a mental toughness as he stepped up in the penalty shootout. Not only did he take a penalty but he took the fifth penalty, one which Manchester United had to score to stay in the game. He did and John Terry will still be cursing him for doing so. It wasn’t all plain sailing though. The overriding feeling amongst the Manchester United fans and coaching staff was one of great frustration as Nani displayed a great deal of natural footballing ability, but very little in the way of a footballing brain as good play was often blighted by poor decision making.

Nani’s second season (2008-2009) was another successful one for Manchester United as they retained their Premiership crown and reached the final of the Champions League for a second consecutive season. Nani, however, regressed. If he was frustrating in his first season, he was hair-pullingly infuriating in his sophomore one. His decision making was poor, he seemed to lack confidence and he managed a solitary league goal. Again, there were flashes of brilliance as he used skill and pace to razzle dazzle defenders, but the feeling was again one of frustration and bemusement. The fans could see that he was not another Djemba-Djemba or Bellion, but the goods were not produced regularly enough. Would he come back better or had his confidence drained altogether?

Fortunately for United, it was to be the former as the Cape Verde born winger had his breakthrough season. He seemed to benefit mentally from Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure for Madrid, but at the start of the season, it looked as if he may be surplus to requirements. He was quite often consigned to the bench as Sir Alex Ferguson favoured new signing Luis Antonio Valencia and United stalwart Ryan Giggs on the wings. Nani did manage a goal from a free kick against Wigan Athletic but a patchy start to his season was symptomatic of United’s on the whole.

Nani: A star on the rise

We have to ask what Nani had for his Christmas dinner because the second half of the season was fantastic for him. He was again the bane of Arsene Wenger’s life as he took Gael Clichy to the cleaners and set up two goals at the Emirates and impressive performances and goals followed, including a sublime finish against Tottenham at Old Trafford. Defenders now seemed to fear his pace and his improved decision making was appreciated by the likes of Wayne Rooney as he assisted them on a regular basis.

After a two and a half year wait, the patience shown by Sir Alex Ferguson and the Old Trafford faithful has been rewarded as Nani has come of age, putting in top level performances on a regular basis and delivering on the talent that has for so long remained buried. The comparisons with Ronaldo are still wide of the mark, but Nani is playing well and enjoying his football at Old Trafford. He now feels that he belongs and if he can continue to play in the same manner, he will be an asset to United for many years to come.

His international career mirrors his club one as the Portuguese fans have been treated to glimpses of brilliance but they too, will hope for improved consistency. Carlos Queroz will be looking for him to deliver. If he does, Portugal will be a tough proposition at the World Cup.


Name: Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha

Place of Birth: Praia, Cape Verde

Nationality: Portuguese

Date of Birth: 17th November 1986

Career League Appearances: 120

Career League Goals: 17

Total Career Appearances: 173

Total Career Goals: 28

International Caps: 34

International Goals: 6

Categories: Football
  1. Superiorraw
    May 30, 2010 at 3:22 am

    Nicely written as usual. I pretty much agree with this summary. I do think sometimes its tough for him to express himself and play better on a regular basis when he’s in and out of the side. He’s had these discussions with Sir Alex already, He complained that sometimes he was left out of the big games after playing so well in the build ups. I noted he always seems to perform well against Chelsea too.

    I do like Nani alot, he’s not afraid to do something different. I hope that he and Valencia can become a real threat for us in the next few seasons.

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