Luis Nani; We’ll miss him more than we think

Today marks the day Manchester United announce the signing of Marcos Rojo. A promising Argentine central defender who will no doubt bolster our defence. At 24, the young defender still has time on his side, and in my opinion is a great signing for Manchester United. That being said, I still hope there are more to come.

While one player files in from Portugal, another one departs the club in the opposite direction. Luis Nani will rejoin his boyhood club Sporting Lisbon on a season-long loan.

People on Twitter aren’t very upset about the departure of our Portuguese winger. Nobody seems to think Nani deserves much of a send-off. Considering his last 18 months at the club, you might rightfully not want him to return to the club after his loan spell.

I say Nani deserves a proper good-bye. And I also think he doesn’t deserve to be remembered by his last two seasons for the club. He deserves to be remembered by his two best seasons. Between 2009 and 2012 he was (together with Rooney) the club’s main attacking threat. Regularly bagging goals and assists coming off either wing and scoring a few scorchers on the way.

When he first came on the scene in August 2007 many people thought he was a cheap copy of Ronaldo. And indeed they had a lot in common. Both Portuguese, both wingers, both from Sporting, both incredibly gifted on the ball, both right footed albeit with a not so weak, weak left foot.

It soon became clear that Nani, had similar potential to Ronaldo, but – at almost two years younger than his countryman – wasn’t quite on Ronaldo’s level yet. He did score two unforgettable goals against Middlesborough and Spurs early in the season. Shirts started to sell and soon nobody considered the £20m United spent on him as a waste of money.

The season ended with Nani playing a bit-part role. Tucked-in comfortably in Ronaldo’s wast shadow, Nani scored a penalty in that faithful night in Moscow and helped the Reds clinch the double. The next season came along and Nani was no longer the new boy. He was given a similar role in the team (still thanks to Ronaldo’s form) but when things didn’t go his way no longer had the excuse of being new to English football.

He merely managed to score six goals in 31 games and eyebrows were raised when Fergie elected Nani and summer signing Antonio Valencia to fill the gap left by Ronaldo for the next season.

Questions were asked. Would Nani be the Ronaldo-type of winger; the one who faints left, goes right and smashes it in the top corner 40-odd times a season.
Or would Nani be the Quaresma-type of winger; the player who has more tricks in his locker than Jeremy Lynch, but becomes increasingly frustrating to watch because he fails to deliver the goods when it really matters in front of goal.

As it transpired, Nani was neither type. He was somewhere in between Ronaldo and Quaresma. Sometimes you couldn’t defend against him, and sometimes he was completely invisible for 90 minutes. Wonderfully, frustratingly, inconsistent.
All in all however, he didn’t have a bad campaign in 2009/10. He and Antonio Valencia would have been talked about more often, had their good form not been overshadowed by a Wayne Rooney having what up to this day still counts as the season of his life.

In the 2010/11 season, Nani began to truly fulfil his potential. He scored nine league goals and assisted 19 further in 33 Premier League games, completely justifying his inclusion in the PFA Team of the year at the end of the season. His tally of 42 appearances for the season was only bettered by the ever present Paddy Evra and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar. Nani had finally arrived on the biggest of stages. He had become a vital part of a Premier League winning team, and while not managing to make us forget Ronaldo altogether, nobody seemed to be able to imagine a United XI without him.

He was able to transfer his good form into the 2011/12 campaign. The arrival of Ashley Young meant he wasn’t able to grab the same amount of assists as the year before, but he still managed to score 8 league goals and contributed greatly to a season that – as we all know – ended in Sergio Agüero breaking our hearts at the very end.

Meanwhile Luis Nani, though being an integral part of the Manchester United squad for 3 full seasons now, started to divide opinions more than ever.
People would complain about his laziness, his lack of tracking back, his habit of shooting or running into people when team-mates were available for passes were often cause for outbursts of frustration from fans. In other words, he had failed to reach what one might call “The Next Level”.

The 2012/13 season would mark the beginning of the end for Luis Nani. It was a bit of start-stop for the him. In and out of the team, plagued by injuries along the way. Throughout the whole season he had one really good game that will stay with me to my dying days.

The second leg of the Champions League tie against Real Madrid. I don’t often talk about that game – as you’d expect – but in the light of Nani’s departure I feel obligated to do so.

It was the best game I’ve seen United play since I can walk. It was perfect. The team stuck together, Welbeck completely ran the show by taking Xabi Alonso completely out of the game defensively, and in offence, offering speed and sharpness that the Real defence could not handle. Cleverley made sure Michael Carrick could play his game, Ryan Giggs and Rafael completely silenced Ronaldo and in defence, Vidic and Ferdinand pulled off a display reminiscent of 2008. Old Trafford was rocking, United had taken the lead without allowing Real Madrid a single shot on target.

Nani had crossed, and Sergio Ramos had scored what would later prove to be the last Champions League goal ever for Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson.

In short, United were as good as they had (n)ever been. There wasn’t a single doubt in my mind about who would win the game. Up until bloody Cüynet Cakir stole the limelight…

The biggest disappointment in all the years I’ve spent following and supporting Manchester United. Even bigger than *that* Agüero moment. When we lost the league to City I felt like we had screwed up. Yes it was painful. But in my eyes we hadn’t lost the title on the last day of the season.

When the Turkish referee showed Nani the red card though, it was a moment of complete injustice. We had done nothing wrong. On the contrary, we had been brilliant. And yet we were thwarted by an act of complete insanity. Nani had done nothing wrong and was sent off.

It was the height of unfairness, even writing this down I can feel the frustration blowing up inside of me.

And even though Nani didn’t deserve to be sent off, this game seemed to break him, in other words, that red card marked the beginning of his exit from the club.

I thought he never got back to what he had been before. Yes, 2013/14 was again marred by injuries, but since that game I don’t think Nani’s form ever got anywhere close to what it was in 2010/11. His match-winning qualities more and more made way for his frustrating side. Fans started to turn on him and Nani (like the rest of David Moyes’ side) was fast running out of excuses.

And now he’s leaving (apparently). At 27, surely he still had much to offer to Manchester United. In my eyes, he’s a victim of the new 3-5-2 system. He won’t ever be a wing-back, and to be completely honest, neither will he ever be a striker. So no, Nani definitely doesn’t fit the new system.

The decision to loan him out makes perfect sense to me though. Maybe, in a year, we’ll be back to playing with wingers at United. And I for one will be welcoming him back with open arms. For he may be inconsistent, and has certainly lost some (if not to say “most”) of his spark over the past year and a half, but if fit and played regularly, Luis Nani is a winger who guarantees you 10 goals and 15 assists a season. And that’s quality.

So he’s off. Off to a league for which he is most certainly too good. Off to play for his boyhood club Sporting Lisbon. A quiet exit for a player who could be world-class the first minute, and play like he had never played football before the next.
Somewhere between genius and insanity, Nani will be missed.
Perhaps more than we can imagine.

Good-Bye Nani. We’ll miss you more than we think.

Also, if you have 10 minutes to spare, this video of Nani is a brilliant recap of his last 7 years at the club:

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