When Luis Carlos Almeida Da Cunha aka Nani was snapped up by Manchester United in the summer of 2007 for £17 million, it was regarded as a good move for both club and player. After all, the young winger’s senior from Sporting Lisbon was already at the club and had shown how ready he was to take his game and the club to the next level. So, at that point, every issue including the language barrier and settling in would be helped with club teammate Cristiano Ronaldo around to help him.
For the club, it meant that the perfect opportunity had come for a player to be groomed in order to take up the huge task of filling Ronaldo’s boots when he left (which he did in 2009). It was all set to be a very good union and the Portuguese winger quickly showed promise by scoring a lovely 30-yard shot past Brad Friedel in a tough 1-0 win over Tottenham at Old Trafford. To top it all off, he celebrated in perhaps the most flamboyant manner ever seen at Old Trafford. He performed two sublime somersaults, following a cart-wheel. Many a Man United fan were convinced that this new player would become a key asset in years to come.
However, that has not been the story for Nani. For a player blessed with a high level of skill and technical ability (I dare say higher than Ronaldo especially in terms of close dribbling), Nani has simply not done well. His 131 club appearances do not have a lot of repeated “wow” moments and it is not as though, he cannot put out some mind-blowing performances. In February 2008, he played at a superhuman level against Arsenal at Old Trafford in a 4-0 win that saw him score 1 goal and set up 2 others and he even treated the crowd to some lovely ball juggling that drew criticism from Arsene Wenger and Gilberto Silva. He repeated the dose 2 years later at the Emirates by scoring a brilliant individual goal after dribbling two Arsenal players on the flanks and body-swerving Samir Nasri before lobbing Manuel Almunia.
So what seems to be the problem? Inconsistency. A simple failure to keep performing and working hard at the same levels week in, week out and that has left Nani on the fringes of the team. Nani may have been called the heir to Ronaldo’s throne but he probably failed to learn the most important thing from his senior; how to keep giving your best. A look at Ronaldo’s Old Trafford career shows that with each passing season, he honed his abilities and worked hard on improving himself. He began scoring from set-pieces, playing in more advanced positions and this enabled the club to win so much from the years 2006 to 2009. Nani has not gone down this path over the years. The first-half of the team’s title-winning 2010-2011 was essentially the winger’s show. He looked like had finally become his own man and the team could look to him for the creative work. Unfortunately, an injury at Liverpool disrupted the winger’s form but after that season, he has not repeated the top displays.
Some might point to the fact that his deployment on the left flank has affected the winger’s style of play but this claim is not entirely true. Nani was used predominantly on the left flank in the 2007/08 and it continued in subsequent seasons. His technical abilities should generally allow him to play across the pitch in attack but the winger has not used the opportunities given to him over the last 5 years. The only consistency he has shown so far is drawing moans from the crowds and his fellow players because of a misplaced pass or wasting a few more seconds on the ball whereas a timely delivery would create good chances.
One cannot tell if Luis Nani has a future at Manchester United but if he wants to stay, then he must improve in leaps and bounds. He must start working on his abilities and develop other skills, such as taking free kicks. He must learn to express his skill but , in doing that the collective good must be the guiding principle.
However, if his time at Old Trafford is coming to an end, then he might just walk out of the club knowing that he did not do enough to become the key man Ronaldo was for the Red Devils. That is the hard truth. And that is the reality…