Manchester United: Breaking Down Nani's Career at Old Trafford

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Manchester United: Breaking Down Nani's Career at Old Trafford
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha—better known as "Nani"—has been at Manchester United for over five years. Signed as a talented youngster for the sum of €25.5 million, the Portuguese winger has endured a mixed tenure at Old Trafford.

Reports suggest Arsene Wenger is considering a shocking January move for the player who is currently sidelined with injury (via The Daily Mail). While it's unlikely that Sir Alex Ferguson will sell Nani to United's Premier League rivals, it seems like he will be on his way in the near future.

It takes a real optimist to suggest Nani's form has been fruitful of late. As we potentially head towards the twilight of his United career, it's an appropriate time to break down the gritty details of his time as a Red Devil.

 

Signing and potential

As mentioned already, Nani arrived in Manchester with a hefty fee inserted around a relatively unknown name. Similar to Cristiano Ronaldo, Sir Alex Ferguson raided Sporting Lisbon to secure the signature of one of the world's hottest talents.

Nani's potential immediately came to the forefront. He netted a fantastic goal during his preseason debut against Shenzhen. Then, he followed this with an absolutely stunning chip against Guangzhou Pharmaceutical—leaving many United fans believing that they had nabbed a real bargain.

The youngster followed these impressive performances with a substitute appearance against Chelsea in the Community Shield. United secured the trophy, providing Nani with an instant taste of success.

Before the Premier League season began, he notched another excellent goal in a friendly against semi-professional Irish side Glentoran.

Despite the poor standard of United's preseason opposition, Nani's first handful of appearances underlined his inflated transfer fee.

MN Chan/Getty Images

 

First Team Breakthrough

Ever since Nani's competitive first team breakthrough, the Portuguese international has been a key part of Sir Alex Ferguson's plans.

On August 26, 2007, Old Trafford was introduced to his trademark flip celebration. Nani's 30-yard screamer against Spurs marked his first competitive goal for the club. Even now, it still ranks as a career highlight.

Nani's debut season with United was laden with memorable achievements. Although the player failed to hold down a consistent starting place, Ferguson often utilised his intense pace and trickery from the bench.

The winger accumulated 26 starts and 15 substitute appearances across all competitions. In this time, he scored four goals and provided 11 assists—including a memorable substitute display where he scored and set up a goal against Liverpool. The Reds marched towards the Premier League crown—a story of success that would continue across the next year.

United's season culminated with the 2008 Champions League final against Chelsea. Despite starting on the bench, Nani's name wrote itself into United folklore when he neatly dispatched the winning penalty against Avram Grant's nearly boys.

Three major trophy wins in his first year set Nani up for greatness. While his 2008-2009 season didn't meet the heights of the previous 12 months, plenty of opportunities waited ahead.

 

Pressure to be "the next Ronaldo"

Before Cristiano Ronaldo transferred to Real Madrid, Nani was seen as an excellent apprentice. When the slick-haired Portuguese superstar secured his move to Spain in the summer of 2009, the Old Trafford crowd expected Nani to step up.

Memories of legendary wingers such George Best, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and—most importantly, Ronaldo—filled the club with natural expectation. Nani had to be the next one on an endless production line. His excellent abilities meant immediate performances were observed with great scrutiny.

A string of poor showings left the player frustrated. He criticised Ferguson and was seen to be cracking under the pressure (via The Guardian). Ronaldo had gone, and United's success dried up with it. Nani started 30 games and made four substitute appearances, scoring seven goals and providing nine assists in the process.

His most notable performance from this season came in the 3-1 Premier League victory over Arsenal. I'd outline this as one of the winger's best displays ever, signified by a jaw-dropping solo goal.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

 

Individual Recognition

The 2010-11 season should be seen as Nani's most productive year in a United shirt. With Ronaldo long gone, the player began to develop his own style of play. Instead of feeling compelled to mimic his countryman, the mercurial winger was a vital part of United's Premier League success.

Now an ever-present in Ferguson's lineup, Nani started 32 times and came off the bench twice in the Premier League. His form improved dramatically with the run of games.

By the end of the year, Nani finally look set to fully justify the large sum of cash that he was bought for. He scored nine goals and totalled 14 assists in the domestic championship—a statistic that finally outlined him as a different type of player to Ronaldo.

Instead of relentless individual brilliance, Nani had settled into his role as a team player. He was nominated for the PFA Young Footballer of the Year award, although he missed out on the crown to Arsenal's Jack Wilshere.

Quite remarkably, Nani didn't receive a nomination for the main award (via ESPN), despite propelling United to league success.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

 

Loss of Momentum

Manchester United's decision to sign Ashley Young at the beginning of the 2011-12 season may have changed the game for Nani. Although he posted decent stats once more, a collective failure to retain the Premier League title heaped pressure on Ferguson's side.

Young retained his position on the left wing. Unfortunately for Nani, the emergence of Antonio Valencia meant an increased amount of time on the bench. Despite being ravaged by serious injury, Valencia outshone his Portuguese colleague and collected three personal awards at the end of the season (via Goal.com).

Manchester City snatched the Premier League crown with Sergio Aguero's dramatic winner against QPR, and questions surrounded Nani's future.

 

Downfall

Things haven't gone smoothly for Nani in the current campaign, and his inflated contract demands have stalled the signing of a new deal.

On the back of this, Zenit St Petersburg sniffed around the player's services. Even the Russian giants, who have more money than sense, dismissed his claims for £130,000 per week (via The Daily Mail).

The winger's relationship with Ferguson has also frayed. Reports suggest Nani punched reserve player Davide Petrucci in a training ground bust-up (via The Daily Mail). His performances on the pitch have gotten progressively worse, leading many to believe his desire to play for United has vanished.

Laziness has crept into Nani's game. Before his recent injury, he very rarely tracked back to help out Patrice Evra. His decisions were overruled by sloppiness, as he continued to play useless passes and failed to dribble around opponents in key areas.

At this stage in the season, he is currently averaging 0.9 successful dribbles per game. He has been dispossessed an average 1.9 times per appearance.

Arsenal's interest seems to have come out of nowhere. Perhaps Arsene Wenger is looking to replace his own contract rebel—a Mr. Theo Walcott—with an equally frustrating individual.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

 

Should Nani stay at Old Trafford?

As we've seen, Nani is more than capable of carving his name into the history books. He is an extremely talented member of an elite team. If Nani was able to replicate his form of the 2010-11 season, United would surely close in on the Premier League crown.

Unfortunately, Nani is an emotional man. He reacts to pressure in a negative manner and is often accountable for important mistakes. Sir Alex Ferguson blamed him for the Capital One Cup defeat to Chelsea earlier in the season (via Sky Sports), an occurrence that may have sealed his future away from the club.

If Ferguson is famous for anything, it's his ability to call time on a player's Manchester United career. Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy know this. Nani knows nobody is bigger than the club, and right now, he appears to have outstayed his welcome.

 

How do you rate Nani's Manchester United career so far? Let me know in the comments section below and be sure to follow me on Twitter:


All statistics in this article are courtesy of Whoscored and ESPN.

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