“All we needed to do was see the game out with good possession. Nani is experienced but he’s a player who wants to beat men and I often discourage him from that. In that situation, if we’d kept the ball at the corner flag, the game’s over.”
Sir Alex Ferguson, 31 October 2012
There is a certain brutal inevitability delivered with that quote that Beckham, Stam and Keane will appreciate. Once you have achieved the disapproval of the manager, there is nowhere left to go but the exit door. It seems a shame that patience has run out for a player who was set to fill the boots of a certain other Portuguese winger yet his development has stifled and even shipping him off for a tidy sum has proven difficult.
Sometimes comparisons are unavoidable and that is certainly the case with Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo. Whilst Ronaldo (and arguably his ego) blossomed into a Ballon d’Or winner, the same cannot be predicted of his compatriot. Anyone who remembers his debut will reminisce over a thrilling 15 minute cameo against Bolton Wanderers worth regaling future grandchildren with. Of course, during those early days he too naively lost possession yet lessons were learnt, the talent was honed and a match-winner was moulded. In comparison, Nani has stagnated.
Currently he finds himself struggling for game time as wingers Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have pushed him down the pecking order. Enjoying a rare start, albeit in the Capital One Cup, would have been a chance to seize and curry favour with the boss. A goal would have helped but his selfishness to showboat as the clock runned down may serve as his final meaningful act in a Manchester United shirt.
Therein lies the problem with Nani. For all the known skill, his unpredictability is also his main problem. Yes, he can regularly beat his man and even score spectacular goals from 30 yards plus. However, it is his propensity to frustrate that may prove the end of him. Put bluntly, Nani is not a consistent 7/10 every week footballer. His is a mercurial yet inconsistent talent and one which the manager cannot accommodate anymore.
The time to get rid is now yet that is easier sai than done. Newspaper reports detail a £25m bid from Zenit St Petersburg during the summer but the stalling point was not the prospect of a harsh Russian winter but ‘unreal’ wage demands. To put this into perspective, this is a club owned by the largest extractor of natural gas in the world, Gazprom. A club that had a £64m summer spending spree on only two players which leads one to ask, exactly how much was Nani demanding? Apparently he is yet to agree on a bumper new deal amounting to a mere £130,000 per week to remain at Old Trafford.
What also does not help is the reporting of a training ground bust-up in late September with Davide Petrucci. While occurrences of hard challenges and subsequent words being exchanged may be a weekly non-event across training grounds, what sets this one apart is the petulant, high school-esque behaviour that followed. Allegedly Nani later called the Italian over in the gym, not to amicably settle the dispute but to have the final say and land the last punch.
Off-pitch behaviour like this raises questions over whether Nani has the required demeanour to knuckle down and work hard to win back his place or that he simply believes his own hype. The self-aggrandising life-size marble statue of himself adorned with winners medals in his living room probably sums it up nicely. Both appear costly, impressive and a bit flash. Alas, both will prove difficult to shift.