The good, the bad and the Nani

For every Manchester United great that has donned the coveted Red shirt there has been a flop in the hall of shame, a perennial failure that United fans would rather forget.

A word commonly associated with Nani at the beginning of his career was “potential”, a player who demonstrated sparks of brilliance. However, bursts of talent do not have a tendency to to live long in the memory, especially when compounded by recurrent disappointment.

For all those who have a love and appreciation for the Football Manager franchise, just ask the “wonderkid” Freddie Adu.

However, upon Nani’s arrival at Manchester United, what was not to like? He came through the Sporting Lisbon academy like Ricardo Quaresma and Cristiano Ronaldo on the back of a Taça de Portugal in 2006–07. From the outset, it was apparent that he had the makings of great player.

Two footed, astounding dribbling ability, the balance of a fleet-footed gazelle, and pace to burn with more tricks in his locker than Tyrion Lannister. With this in mind, the comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo were not only likely, they were inevitable.

In Cristiano Ronaldo’s six years at the club, he made a total of 292 appearances (245 starts with 47 of those being substitutions), scoring 118 goals equating to 0.40 goals per game.

Conversely in over eight seasons, spanning 230 appearances for Manchester United in all competitions Nani scored just 40 goals in comparison – Four in Europe out of 52 appearances, four in the league cup out of 11 appearances, 25 goals in 147 league games, four in the FA Cup out of 13 appearances and three in other competitions encompassing the FA Community Shield, UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup at a rate of 0.17 goals per game.

Based on the statistics above, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Nani is not even in the same universe as Ronaldo – that job could be done by a monkey with a bottle of Ritalin.

Yet despite the above, one cannot deny the fact that Nani has an impressive CV since arriving at Manchester United.

    • 4 Premier League medals (2007–08, 2008–09, 2010–11, 2012–13)
    • 1 League Cup (2008 – 2009)
    • 4 community shields (2007, 2008, 2010, 2011) – Yes, I’ve added the community shield in for completeness.
    • 1 UEFA Champions League (2007-2008)
    • 1 FIFA Club World Cup in 2008.

He made some vital contributions in certain seasons at critical junctures, the most important of which earned him inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year and Manchester United’s Players’ Player of the Year: 2010 -11 with 10 goals & 15 assists in 32 appearances (including substitutions). Increasing his goals per game ratio from 0.10 in 2007/08 to 0.31 in the 2010/11 season, a factor which led many to believe he his potential was finally coming to fruition.

The reality of the modern game has demonstrated time and time again that some players integrate themselves into performing as part of the machinery that drives their respective clubs leaving legacies behind and some inevitably fall by the wayside.

Does that make them deserving of being labelled a bad player or does it mean that that particular situation was not right for them? Examples that come to mind is Fernando Torres’ move to Chelsea and Radamel Falcao’s move to Manchester United.

However, the fundamental factor that differentiates Nani from those players is that they had already been established as quality footballers, not just mere prospects. Additionally, Nani’s career at United included well documented fall outs with players, coaches and severe tactical indiscipline which did nothing to contribute to his longevity as a United player.

This has led many to be of a mind that in the proverbial sense, Nani was the lesser son of a greater sires of midfielders that have played for Manchester United. A predominant passenger, who was both bright and frustrating in equal measure.

I cannot imagine the amount of times he had both fans in the stands and at home blowing a gasket because he would shoot or pass to a player who has been marked by two or more players instead of passing to an unmarked teammate. (I should probably be asking Fergie that question.)

Let us be clear, unlike some players in the hall of shame, Nani is not a bad player, just one that never lived up to his potential. A factor which most, (including myself on occasion) lose sight of due to the fact that they do not properly distinguish between the two concepts.

There have been a host of players at Old Trafford that have played without making a mere impression. One only needs to look at Bebe, Eric Djemba-Djemba (who wasn’t so good, they named him twice), Kleberson and Anderson.

In true honesty, Nani possessed more natural talent than most players in Manchester United squads during his tenure. A supremely exceptional talent on the ball when going forward which made the questions surrounding him more frustrating. On that basis it is fair to say that, Nani’s inconsistencies, attitude, tactical awareness and decision making left his full potential at Manchester United unfulfilled.

Consequently, by some he will be remembered of as the nearly man, the mercurial talent that on occasion would be nothing short of unplayable for 90 minutes. Showcasing audacious skill and a seamless combination of agility, power and speed. If you think that’s an over-exaggeration, just ask Arsene Wenger.

Putting in some performances that had United fans desperately hoping he was on the precipice of achieving the heights they had imagined for him. Allowing him to join the illustrious hall of Premier League players who defined the game to become great players on the ultimate stage.

I suspect most United and Premier League fans alike, will relegate Nani to the confines of the esteemed company of flops. An enigma who demonstrated sporadic displays of talent that never truly materialised into anything remotely consistent or palpable.

All in all, although I cannot abandon reason for sentimentality, I can’t completely ignore the latter either. My opinion will continue to fluctuate between both camps.

I will however, miss seeing that leap of death summersault celebration.