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Friday, 06 April 2012 17:55

Returning Nani still waiting for his “Ronaldo season”

A look at Portuguese star’s stop-start career at Old Trafford

NaniMANCHESTER United and Portugal star Nani is still waiting for his ‘Ronaldo season’, according to a man with his finger on the pulse at Old Trafford. PortuGOAL talked to Manchester Evening News reporter James Robson, who covers all things United for the local paper, who accepts that many still view Nani as something of an enigma.

That the term ‘enigma’ can be bandied around is somewhat surprising, given the Portuguese’s form last season when he scored 10 goals, made 18 assists and was voted Players’ Player of the Year by his peers at Old Trafford. Yet, the idea of ‘promise unfulfilled’ still dogs the winger like a tenacious Premier League full-back.

After a bright start to the current campaign, the former Sporting player has had a string of niggling injuries and been forced to watch from the sidelines as fellow wingers Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have grabbed the limelight and helped United gain pole position in their bid to pip rivals Manchester City to the title. Back in contention for United’s clash against QPR this Sunday, Nani faces a stiff task to break back into the side and some critics feel he has a lot to prove to be regarded as a truly world-class performer.

“Nani is a match winner”

Robson, however, is not one of them: “I’d have him down as one of the main guys at United, although I think saying he’s something of an enigma holds true. He would maybe only be behind (Wayne) Rooney, when you're talking about match winners. If he’s at his best, he’s a guaranteed starter for United, there’s no doubt about it.

“His goal against Chelsea at the beginning of the season - I think you could count on one hand the number of players in the Premier League who could have scored that goal. He’s not perfect, but he’s a match winner. He also doesn't get enough credit for his defensive play - if you watch him he’s always working hard, tracking back and doing his bit.”

Despite his undoubted ability and a goal threat that few at Old Trafford can match (he has eight to his name this season), it can be argued that United boss Alex Ferguson sometimes lacks a little faith in Nani’s talents.

As Robson adds: “The enigma thing maybe comes from the Champions League Final last year where Ferguson picked Valencia instead of Nani. This showed that he perhaps trusts Valencia more, and that Nani won’t always be selected when he’s not in good form.

Valencia competition

“Personally, I feel that Valencia’s a fantastic player - you know you’re going to get eight out of ten crosses finding their target with him -  but Nani has more to offer. Nani can go both ways when running at people, which few in the modern game can do, and I feel he offers more against the top sides. I think Valencia was found out a little against Barcelona last year.”

Robson states that Nani gives the impression of someone who “believes he can be one of the very best players in the world.” However, there is clearly some way to go before the 25-year-old from Cape Verde is mentioned in the same breath as compatriot, and former Red, Cristiano Ronaldo or Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.

As Robson states: “Everyone’s still waiting for him (Nani) to have that ‘Ronaldo season’ where everything just clicks. The main frustration with Nani is his final ball and particularly his selection of whether to shoot or pass - if you watch Rooney, you'll often see that he gets really frustrated with Nani when he chooses the wrong option.”

With United on course for another Premier League title, Nani this week tweeted that he was “excited” about the run-in to the title race and “feeling good”; Ferguson himself was keen to stress the winger’s importance to his side’s aspirations.

Ferguson said on Friday morning: “He's a good addition (to the squad]), he’s such a talented player. His return makes the squad stronger. We need a strong squad now with three games in seven days. Having more players means I can change the team around for those games.”

Bebe doubts persist

One man who seems a long way from being considered a key part of Ferguson’s squad is Bebe. The Portuguese Under-21 international was loaned to Besiktas this season, and subsequently missed most of it after a serious knee ligament injury, only recently making his return. Robson added:

“Since he left (for Besiktas), he simply hasn’t been on the radar. I’m not sure if United have washed their hands of him, but it’s not unusual for players to come and go (at Old Trafford) without making an impact - he could well be one of them. You could see that Bebe had potential athletically, but he was very raw.”

by Stephen Gillett

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Comments (23)
He doesn´t play regularly
23 Thursday, 12 April 2012 12:31
First of all, what a great article about Nani, congratulations to Stephen Gillett, for a long time i also wonder about this Nani enigma.
About Nani, i really think he is one amazing player and he haves skills and plays a beautiful football that is hard to find in many players.
Valencia in the other hand is a good player but much more predictable. Sometimes for a coach that is better but i think that Man U. at this point really needs someone that can make a difference, not only in goals and assists but also in playing beautiful and unpredictable.
He´s not always the best player in the game but every time he plays he does something that is so unusual and rare that makes me happy for seeing a game with him.
I also think that the fact of not playing so regularly and being left for last choice doesn´t give him the confidence to play at his best level.
We can see that happening with many players and when they move on, have another confidence from the coach and play often, they become much better players and more complete (like sneijder).
Honestly, if i was Nani, i would have a honest talk with SAF and talk about my ambitions and try to figure what SAF want´s on him, and after that talk i would decide if i would stay in Man U or if i would leave.
Nani is at a point that he needs to play regularly and to develop as a player, he is in a turning point from being a good player with some skills or become a great player at a top ten level in the world, if he needs to move to achieve that...then move on.
(sorry for the English)
22 Thursday, 12 April 2012 02:28
There haven't been too many players like Ronaldo, therefore it is unfair to compare Nani to him. However, Nani is a special talent in his own right. He has been forced to play on his off wing in order to allow Valencia to play. Nani needs to move to another team if he is to succeed. Barcelona, Real, Arsenal or Milan would suit his style better.
And furthermore
21 Wednesday, 11 April 2012 20:55
ManU just lost to Wigan, a team struggling to stay in the top flight. You have to respect Ferguson's record. But I do think that when a coach has had so much success he's less likely to listen to other people sometimes. They need another central midfielder.
@Voice Of Reason
20 Tuesday, 10 April 2012 18:04
I think Vaz Te will have to start scoring in the Premier League to get noticed, rightly or wrongly second tier goals don't resonate in the same way top flight ones do. Vaz Te also has the disadvantage that he left Portugal very young, not much of a clamour for his selection.

That said I've seen him in the flesh a couple of times this season and he's looked excellent. I think he might end up in the Premier League next season, with or without West Ham.

Speaking of forgotten men
19 Monday, 09 April 2012 23:18
Question for Tom/Ben

Is Ricardo Vaz Te ever going to be an option for Portugal? He is having a great season in the Championship in England. I know he had a serious injury a couple of years back - but I remember when he came up with Bolton...so much was hoped for him.

I would really like to see this guy get a shot - he had so much promise.

Any thoughts?
18 Monday, 09 April 2012 19:38
I think Nani has great potential. He could dance around defenders, score from far away and he's great at crosses into the box. I have notices a drop off in ManU when he's not playing because him and Rooney have good chemistry. Rooney and Nani complement each other well because Rooney is physical in the box and is very good with his head.

Nani has shown times of brilliance over the last two and a half years. But he's also been a little injury prone. Plus, he's also been a little inconsistent like most of ManU in that period.

I almost think it would be better if he moved to another club. I know Juve has shown interest. I also think that ManU is a bit on the decline. I know that they'll probably when the Premier league but there's no doubt that the team has not been the same since Ronaldo left.

Relative to the Barca and Real, ManU has definitely declined. They won the league last year because Chelsea so badly fell apart. If they win this year, it's because Man City fell apart. So, my point is maybe his career would get a big boost if he left to another club where he could flourish.

The problem I have with ManU is that their central midfielders are just not good enough. These days they play with Carrick and one of the old guys (Scholes/Giggs). It's just not good enough. Sir Alex has said that he expects the young Tom Cleverley and Anderson to be the answers down the road but I just don't see that. They need someone like Pirlo or Sneijder to distribute the ball to the wingers (Nani, Valencia and Young) and be that threat down the middle.
17 Monday, 09 April 2012 09:29
Bebe has not been visible cause he got injured in pre season at besiktas lmao, he came back a week ago
16 Monday, 09 April 2012 00:06
i jst think nani is unlucky sometimes!!! when you watch portugal play : most of the time nani outshines ronaldo.
nani is better than valencia because his got more skills, can shoot wth both feet, has more flar, dribbles better, scores amazing goals, his not predictable like valencia.
SAF cost us the champs lg when he lft hm on the bench.
i will never forgive him for that. u know before the game i was telling my frends (barca fans) to watch out for nani!!! only to be disapointed.... it was so sad, i almost cried. and to make it worse valencia was duing shit the whole game (even my 5 year old brother was complaining about hm!!! today SAF left nani out of the team sheet, who knows why??? i think nani is 1 of the best players in world if not the best. he has pace, skill, talent, flar, tricks, scores "wonder goals" WHAT MORE DU U NEED??????
How quickly we forget
15 Sunday, 08 April 2012 14:36
Let's see if I understand? SAF is a genius with Cristiano but brain dead with Nani.
Let Nani be Nani
14 Sunday, 08 April 2012 06:03
Expectations are too high! Nani does a great job with Man Utd, Fergie is brain dead when he doesn't play Nani.
Nani isn't in the same class Crisitano Ronaldo and will never be
13 Saturday, 07 April 2012 18:21
I don't mean to be negative but Nani won't deliver C Ronaldo season for Man u, he has qaulity no doubt and I really hope he does well. If you look back, we've had a number of promising talents i'e R Quaresma, Hugo Viana, Paulo Futre ect but they failed to make the World Class grade... I'm afriad Nani will join this list.
LOL @ Bryan
12 Saturday, 07 April 2012 15:48
What are you getting at Bryan? What happened to your boy Pizzi!? Or Ukra!? I guess they are no longer good enough to be future wingers? ;) I could have sworn you had high praise for them last season! LOL! Not only that, there's still our beloved Nelson Oliveira, Danilo, Nuno Reis, Mika, Roderick Miranda, Cedric, Caetano.. Etc..
also @ bryan
11 Saturday, 07 April 2012 14:37
the fact that you're complaining about all the foreigners in the league is not very smart either as the main idea is to increase the profile of the league , which they have done and now the league is above the french league in the uefa rankings , portugal has a small population so at least it has a good excuse compared to other leagues who also have a lot of foriegners , the main idea is to give young portuguese players(few as they may be)the best league possible in which they can develop into a great player , we now have ronaldo who is the best winger in the world , nani i would also say is in the top 10 amongst wingers despite his inconsist play , coeantrao is one of the players in the world at his position , patricio is on the rise amongst goalkeepers , moutinho is on the cusp(this is a very important year for him)and i left out pepe for all you purists , portugal is only a couple players away right now from capturing that elusive major title
Still needs to grow his game
10 Saturday, 07 April 2012 12:25
Nathan, you said it. Valencia does exactly what SAF wants him to do, which is deliver the ball into the box. Nani doesn't always do so, and sits on the ball for too long at times. One is provider and the other has a scorer mentality.

For me Nani will never reach the status of Cristiano or Messi. I actually feel its foolish to mention him in the same breath. But there's no reason that he shouldn't reach the level of a Robben or Ribery. For me he hasn't done that yet.
He needs to be more decisive on the ball and overall be more potent.
best is yet to come
9 Saturday, 07 April 2012 07:14
I agree that once Nani puts it all together he could be as great as Ronaldo or Messi, but I wonder if he ever will. When I watch Nani play, it sometimes seems likes he's trying too hard to think of the "killer move" and while he's doing this he just dwells on the ball and slows the game down.

When his style is more direct, there are few defenders that can cope with his combination of pace and skillful footwork. I think he's probably a better dribbler than even Ronaldo in some respects, but he can't combine with the decision making ability and lethal finishing that Ronaldo possesses. Yes, Nani can occasionally produce an amazing goal or two but I don't really think that's his strong point. He's a much better provider and I think he should build that aspect of his game. It shows in the way he plays that sometimes he's very unsure of whether to shoot from a difficult position or make a simple cross and that indecision is why Ferguson prefers Valencia in the biggest games.

Valencia is one dimensional in that you always know what you're going to get from him. He's going to run hard at the defense, cut to the byline, and deliver a cross into the box where Wayne Rooney and others can finish it off. Valencia is accurate too, as the author mentioned. I totally agree with him that Nani CAN offer more, because he has better footwork and can do more than just run straight at his defender and cross. But if Nani can't show that his array of talents are better than Valencia's simpler but more effective methods, he's not going to be the guy at United. I still think he can do it, but he certainly has work to do in my opinion.

I hope he can figure it out.....we need Nani at his best and I think he has a lot more to offer than what we've already seen.
Nani is World Class!
8 Friday, 06 April 2012 23:34
This doubting undermining of Nani is retarded and completely underhand, because OBVIOUSLY Nani has had injury problems this season. Thats the primary reason he has missed games. This whole idea of waiting for "Ronaldo season" is COMPLETE GARBAGE! They are two DIFFERENT players! Cristiano Ronaldo is Cristiano. Nani is Nani. Ronaldo is a goalscorer, Nani is a provider! It is stupid that people still look for Nani to do what Ronaldo does. Articles like this just aggravate me because there is a worldwide campaign of trying to underrate Portugal and Portuguese players for some reason or whatever I really don't know! This is pure bullcrap. We should not even be debating this as there is NO QUESTION! Nani has been Man Utd's most important creative attacking player for the past 2 1/2 seasons. Also he's been very important one of the best players for Portugal in this whole Euro 2012 qualification! The fact that Sir Alex left out Nani from the 2011 champions league final simply shows A FAULT of SIR ALEX, just as it was ANOTHER FAULT OF SIR ALEX leaving Tevez out of the starting lineup for 2009 CL final. Let us not follow fools' thinking and pretend that Sir Alex is always right, because that is NOT the case! Alex has been wrong on MANY occasions and leaving Nani out of the starting lineup last year was definitely one of them! He could have played Nani and Valencia and benched Park Ji Sung. That is a simple and better decision. Just play both Nani and Valencia. They both are better than Park. There is no foundation in this so called argument. Nani was Man Utd's best player last season! AND he was in my opinion ALSO the Premier League's best player last season! Bale only got it because he is British (Wales) and the British are ridiculously full of themselves and are always quick to believe that they are the best any opportunity they get. Last season Nani was the best, just look at his skill, performances and stats, they don't lie! Nani is CLASS!!!
Unfair critisism
7 Friday, 06 April 2012 23:31
@ Bryan - Per normal, your post makes absolutely no sense. Not sure if you are one of those people who make nonsensical statements just to get a rise out of people, but I guess if that's the case, you are in the right place, since everyone tends to go crazy on you whenever you post. If you think that Ronaldo and Nani leaving is going to spell the end of quality for the Portuguese national team, then I don't think you watch much football, either in the Portuguese Liga (where there is tons of upcoming Portuguese talent) or abroad (where there is also tons of Portuguese talent, at big clubs and small clubs alike).

Now on to Nani. I think it's really unfair to say he hasn't reached his potential. Just because he isn't Ronaldo doesn't mean that he isn't a great player. If every winger out there was compared to Ronaldo, there wouldn't be many wingers who would be considered great. Nani has alot of strengths. He is fast, has vision, and has good instincts. Is he perfect? No, he wastes opportunities, but give him a break, he is human.

In my opinion he is better than 95% of the wingers out there, so Man U should be grateful, or trade him, because I know that alot of other teams would pay alot of money to have him wear their jersey on the pitch.
Great player
6 Friday, 06 April 2012 23:16
I find it ridiculous that people still claim Nani to be inconsistent or frustrating. Almost every player is frustrating during some games, it's a natural thing. Look at Ryan Giggs. An absolute legend of a player, one of the best ever in my opinion, yet he still gives the ball away ridiculously now and again or makes the wrong pass now and again - it happens. Plus, wingers like Nani are going to be more frustrating due to their flair and skill, beating a man or going inside.

I feel for Nani, I really do. The lad is an incredible player in his own right and a lot of United fans agree that when on form, he is just second to Rooney and/or Vidic as United's best player. He's been unlucky this year with injuries, but he's such a vital component to the United set up, and to those saying he should leave United - ridiculous notion, if I’m honest. SAF was full of praise for him just this morning in his Presser for the talented player that he was and he is the man responsible for Nani's meteoric improvement over the past couple of years, because he can see the talent that Nani is. And to memory, SAF is one of the only people not comparing him to you-know-who.
I agree with Tony
5 Friday, 06 April 2012 22:19
Nani should leave Man U. it's clear that SAF will never trust him completely. The idea that he has to play on his weaker side to accommodate Valencia is criminal.

I'd love to see Nani at Real Madrid, but with Di Maria already there it makes little sense.
Nani, one of the best wingers around
4 Friday, 06 April 2012 21:57
I got no real complaints since the beginning of calender year 2010, since that Arsenal game. Been one of the best wingers in the world since then, especially considering his assists/goals per game since then. 2010/11 he was brilliant.

I think its incorrect that people still believe the stereotype that Nani is inconsistent and makes wrong decisions a lot as he has matured a lot. Rooney is too obsessed with receiving crosses, crosses, crosses, which he gets from Valencia, whereas Nani likes to mix it up, which is no bad thing.

Hard to choose between Nani and Valencia though. Two different wingers but brilliant ones.
3 Friday, 06 April 2012 20:49
Nani definitely has improved over the past few years, but I do agree that he still needs to improve his consistency. This year it has been difficult since he's had so many injuries, but even when fit, Nani can still be extremely frustrating to watch. We all know that he has the talent to be the best player in the premier league, but he still struggles with his decision making and consistency.

As the reporter mentioned, in terms of talent, Nani is in a class above Valencia, but Valencia is a consistent performer. He may not have the skill of Nani, but you know that he'll always give you direct running and accurate crosses on the right wing.

If Nani can stay healthy, and improve his consistency, he could definitely be the second best winger in the world after Ronaldo.

Hopefully, he'll be at his best this summer! If both Ronaldo and Nani are at their best, Portugal could be unstoppable.
I can't wait to see what happens to Portugal after Nani and Ronaldo retire
2 Friday, 06 April 2012 20:22
With the portuguese league becoming the Brazilian league # 2 we are definitely screwed.
Leave Man U?
1 Friday, 06 April 2012 19:04
Nani is an enigma is very true. Great talent but can over elaborate on the ball and at times poor decision making.

At 25 maybe he will continue to be an enigma through his career. After awhile your history is who you are. Inconsistent and SAF is not very patience. Nani seems to be a good whipping boy for SAF to shift blame when things go bad.

I personally think Nani should leave Man U for new landscape. Valencia is an inferior industrial player (never uses his left foot) but seems to fit better at Man U then Nani.

Portugal needs Nani at top form and being an ManU under SAF may not be the best option. Maybe time for a move to Spain or another English club.

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