Manchester United: Will Nani Be a Key Player for United This Season?

Max TowleAnalyst ISeptember 5, 2012

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 22:  Nani of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford on April 22, 2012 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

"Go on, Nani."

"Clear the first man, at least."

"Good corner..."

Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson deservedly earned the plaudits this week for his three substitutions Sunday, as his team doggedly fought back to claim a last-gasp 3-2 victory at Premier League new-boys Southampton.

Javier Hernandez, Paul Scholes and Nani all contributed to the cause in the final 20 minutes, each helping to restore a balance to the team going forward that had been missing up until their arrival on the scene.

In Nani's case, it was his corner that led to Robin van Persie's winning goal, two minutes into stoppage time.

For those familiar with the Portuguese winger's corner-taking abilities, such an outcome may have been rather surprising.

It is a very rare occasion indeed when one of his set pieces doesn't either balloon miles over the penalty area or drop well short of those waiting in the box.

Considering his relatively short time at United, van Persie seemed to pick up this Sunday, gambling on the second eventuality to dart toward the near post and send the quickly dropping cross goal-wards and the away fans into raptures.

I could watch the attached video of the fans' reaction to the goal over and over—my own memories of being in the crowd for a late Manchester United winner come flooding back instantly.

In my case, it was during the 2002/03 season—David Beckham's last at the club, and the last league-winning campaign before Arsenal's Invincibles and Mourinho's Chelsea kept the Red Devils down the domestic pecking order for three years.

With a home game with then-struggling Sunderland on New Years Day going the way of the opposition with less than 10 minutes remaining, it was Beckham and Paul Scholes who turned it around that day, with the Ginger Prince scoring in the final minute of time added on.

It was one Diego Forlan who provided the assist for the winner—I don't need to rewatch the footage of the goal to remember that.

United's two late goals at St. Mary's Stadium will also live long in the memory of fans—as all dramatic comebacks do.

For Nani to have played a part in the victorious moment will do him the power of good.

After his shocking performance in the defeat to Everton weeks ago, it seemed that his position at the club had become seriously marginalised.

There was talk of him making the move to Russian club Zenit—rumours that seemed like more than the usual transfer tittle-tattle (via Daily Mail).

But with the transfer window now slammed firmly shut, and Zenit's interest effectively ended after their stunning £63 million swoop for Hulk and Axel Witsel (two names that would sound more at home in The Expendables), it seems Nani will play on at United (via

He will get more opportunities like that against Southampton—more opportunities to deliver the type of performances that saw him named United's Player's Player of the Year less than 18 months ago.

No doubt he'll take a few more corners, and no doubt the majority of them will miss their mark.

But with Robin van Persie lurking in the penalty area every week, ready to strike, United's wingers have a target to aim for like no other in England.

All Nani needs to do when given the opportunity is put the ball in the general vicinity of the Dutchman, and good things are bound to follow.

He'll need to keep his attitude in check and be willing to fight for his place in the team every week, though, because Manchester United's squad is as strong as it has been since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure.

The team will fight for glory on all fronts—the best players asked to deliver in the biggest moments, like Sunday.

Whether or not Nani wants to keep playing a part will be up to him.


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