The last year has seen the future of Manchester United winger Nani questioned regularly after falling out of favour with Sir Alex Ferguson, and the winger’s role under David Moyes still remains unclear, with reports of a move to Turkey, Russia and now Monaco – a far cry from the player that was supposed to be a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo.
In the early years of Nani’s Manchester United career, he often received comparisons to his club and country teammate Ronaldo due to their similar style of play. When Ronaldo left for Real Madrid, the expectation grew that Nani would step up to replace his Portuguese compatriot, but replacing a former winner of the Ballon d’Or is as hard as it sounds.
The development of both players was different. Whilst Ronaldo improved areas in his game to be able to play as a centre forward, Nani became a classic winger utilising his pace and ball control to jinx past the full back. This has seen him lose possession every 4 minutes on average in the last 2 seasons. Despite being good at what he does, the comparison with Ronaldo early on in his career has been a negative as expectations of Nani’s potential were too high.
The main problem with Nani has been his inconsistency as a performer, which is unacceptable at a club of Manchester United’s stature. As a result, the former Sporting Lisbon player has lost his position in the first team to Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa, who were both played out of position. One week he would score a brace and been a constant threat to the opposition back-line, while the next he would be sloppy on the ball and anonymous – labelled by some fans as a ‘luxury player’. This can also be seen in completion of passes in an attacking area – his crossing accuracy and final ball in the attacking third was 16% and 64% respectively.
Nani’s ability to play on both flanks means that cutting inside is a big part of his game. He has demonstrated spectacular goals from distance on more than one occasion; unfortunately, scoring ‘normal’ goals on a regular basis is more difficult. Since the departure of Ronaldo, Nani has only finished the season with a chance conversion rate over 10% (in 2011/12 with 16%), scoring 24 goals in the league during this period.
Despite this, the Portuguese winger had a decent assist record in the 3 years preceding last season with 34, much better than Ashley Young. However, the England international has seen himself move ahead of Nani in the pecking order in spite of being a more predictable attacking threat.
Now in the last year of his contract. A decision will no doubt be made by the end of the summer on Nani’s future as Manchester United look to offload him or sign him up for another few years. The decision process will be in the next few weeks as Moyes returns with the majority of the squad from their pre-season tour.
If Nani is still a Manchester United player by the end of the transfer window, and Moyes is able to help the winger to perform consistently, then he could be a key player for the Premier League champions. With Ferguson struggling to help Nani himself, it seems a very tough ask for the new Manchester United boss.