A transfer window rarely goes by without United’s greatest enigma, Luis Nani, being linked with a move to another club. As the window closed this summer there was a late speculation frenzy implicating the Portuguese in a potential move to cash rich Russians Zenit St. Petersberg. Zenit general director Maxim Mitrofanov was quoted confirming that there was serious interest in the player.
For one so naturally talented Nani seems to hover dangerously close to the Old Trafford exit door on a regular basis. Just like the paradoxical Dimitar Berbatov, while there is an abundance of skill, there also appear to be serious shortcomings in his game. With Berba it was a tendency to slow things down in a team that loved to counter attack at pace. And with Nani, it is arguably the paucity of football intelligence required to make the most of his god given fleet footedness.
Nani is one of the handful of players in the Premier League that you could call a genuine game changer. With the speed to leave an opponent for dead, even with the ball, a venomous shot and sporadically jaw dropping ball control, he has the ability to be amongst the greatest players in the English league. The problem is that, just like Berbatov, Nani lacks consistency. You don’t know what you are going to get from one week to the next. In one match he will beat 3 men and hit an unstoppable 30 yard goal. The next he will waste the ball a dozen times in a solitary fixture. He seems to do the hard bits brilliantly but the simple things often evade him.
However coincidentally, Nani’s best period for Manchester United came when first choice right winger Antonio Valencia was out with a bad break and dislocation. The Portuguese then had a run in the team in his favourite position and seemed, more often than not, to make the right decision. At last he was apparently realising his incredible potential and doing what Valencia had done so well – beat his man and get a brilliant final ball into the strikers.
On the left, Nani never seems quite as consistent or potent, but there is no obvious reason why someone of his ability couldn’t have a similar effect cutting in onto his right foot. Indeed, he has scored some of his best goals from that position. It is a testament to the player that Sir Alex is happy to put him on the left. He wouldn’t do the same with Valencia because the Ecuadorian simply doesn’t have the required ability on his left foot. But Nani is arguably a victim of his own talent in this regard – forced to be versatile because United have such good options on the right.
However you view the Nani conundrum, this is surely his make or break season at Manchester United. He is, for our money, a much superior player to Ashley Young and, at present, SAF seems reluctant to shove either Kagawa or Giggs out there so this is a great opportunity for the Portuguese to nail down the position. If anyone can coax out the gifts that Nani has, on a consistent basis, it’s Sir Alex Ferguson. The Manchester United boss hates over elaboration and this happens to be Nani’s biggest failing.
At his best Nani is Manchester United’s most skillful player. He can beat a man with pace and guile. He can hit a shot as hard and accurately as anyone in the team. And he possesses fantastic athleticism. If Fergie can successfully educate Nani into finally keeping things simple then we may yet see the winger becoming one of Manchester United’s sharpest tools. But if not, then we would be surprised if the player stays at Old Trafford beyond this season.