At the end of the 2006-2007 season, a year which saw Cristiano Ronaldo burst onto the scene and Manchester United reclaim the Barclays Premier League title from Chelsea, the Old Trafford club announced the signing of Nani, the young Portuguese midfielder, or as far as United fans were concerned, Ronaldo mark II.
It might have been wishful thinking from the Old Trafford faithful, but the rapid progress of both players through Sporting Lisbon’s youth system into the full team was proof that United had made a coup in attracting Nani to England.
Despite the £17 million price tag, supporters were still happy to see the signing as one for the future. With Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez already leading the line, Nani’s impact didn’t have to be instant. That trio helped Sir Alex Ferguson claim his second European Cup, with Nani playing a key role, scoring one of the penalties in the shootout as United overcame Chelsea in Moscow. The signs were initially good.
Three years down the line, and with Ronaldo long gone, it’s Nani’s turn to step up, but it appears unlike Ronaldo, who had already lived with the pressure of playing in a home European Championship’s, the 23-year old might not be ready to bare the responsibility. His weak penalty against Fulham last weekend is the latest in a long list of frustrations United fans have had to live with, and furthermore, with little investment on the horizon Nani has to now start repaying the faith put in him and his hefty price tag. Youthful exuberance and a lack of experience can no longer be used as an excuse for his shortcomings, it’s time for him to produce.
Last season was full of peaks and troughs for the winger. After an inconspicuous start to the season he publically criticized Ferguson for his style of management. Throughout the January transfer window he was linked with a move to Benfica in a swap deal with Angel di Maria, but he helped quell the speculation with his finest performance in a United jersey, against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. Two assists, the first of which saw him beat three players on his way to clipping the ball over Manual Almunia – who could only palm the ball into the net – capped a fine performance but any hope that he might have turned the corner faded days later when he was sent off for a reckless lunge at Aston Villa’s Stiliyan Petrov. That spell sums up his career to date, leaving many onlookers wondering what all the fuss was about.
A succession of excellent performances did follow, and Nani was rewarded with a four-year deal, and seemingly his words deriding Ferguson as a manager had been forgotten. Not many players get a second chance with Ferguson, and perhaps he’s finally put his ego aside to retain a player he believes could be a star. This season could adequately be described as the most crucial in Nani’s career. He can now be considered on most occasions, especially at home, as first choice on the left hand side of United’s midfield, and given the significance that berth has at Old Trafford, it’s abouttime he did it justice.