Still red-faced from a series of transfer deadline shambles that saw the club miss out on Ander Herrera, Sami Khedira and Wesley Sneijder, Manchester United got back to business on Thursday, inking Nani to a five-year contract that will keep the winger at the club until June 2018.
“Playing at United has been a fantastic experience for me,” the 26-year-old told the club’s official website. “When I came to the club I never imaged the success we have enjoyed.”
Since his arrival for just over €25 million in 2007, the former Sporting Lisbon man has won four Premier League titles, the league cup, the Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup.
And while his hand in United’s most recent title success was hardly a meaningful one, the club are obviously banking on his ability to overcome recent injury and form concerns and revisit the sort of ability he displayed between 2010 and 2012, when he scored 10 goals in back-to-back seasons.
“[Nani] has great ability and experience beyond his 26 years,” remarked David Moyes after finalizing the transaction. “I’ve been impressed with his approach to training and look forward to working with him in the coming seasons.”
But impressive training displays are hardly the sort of thing upon which five-year contracts are constructed, especially when the player in question was actively shopped around Europe during the summer.
As early as April it was rumoured Paris Saint-Germain were interested in the Portugal international (The Sun), and both Arsenal (Metro) and Juventus (Express) were also thought to be keen on his services for a time.
For as little as £11 million, United may well have parted with Nani, but less than three days after the transfer deadline, they made an about-face and signed him to an extension instead.
As a piece of business it hints at desperation.
Yes, the club would have had to decide on Nani’s future before January as his previous pact was set to expire in June 2014, but in no way should they have felt themselves compelled to offer him anything more than an additional three years, let alone five.
This is a player, after all, who made only seven Premier League starts last term and found the back of the net just four times in all competitions. (Statistics courtesy Squawka.com.)
Taking his four substitute appearances into account, he created only 11 scoring chances in the English top-flight in 2012-13 and placed a mere 31 per cent of his shots on target. And for every defensive action to which he committed himself, he made a defensive error.
These are hardly the sort of numbers that warranted a five-year extension, although in tying him to the club until after his 31st birthday Moyes seemed willing to risk that the one-time “Next Ronaldo” could turn back the clock to those days three seasons ago when Nani seemed on the cusp of becoming a world class player.
At his best, Nani is an expert dribbler who thrives on cutting inside his markers and placing tricky shots on target from long distances. His first touch is exceptional, and he’s also not afraid to use his teammates in buildup play.
If he is able to resurrect his career at Old Trafford, it will look a masterstroke from Moyes, who could a feel-good story from the business side of his job. And, who knows? Perhaps the faith the manager is putting in him will be just what Nani needs to hit an extended purple patch.
But his contract—both the length of it and circumstances in which it was agreed—comes as a stinging indictment to fellow winger Ashley Young, who must surely be concerned about his future at United now his teammate has signed on for the long term.
However this plays out, Moyes has hitched his star to a highly-capable player who has nevertheless gone missing for days, weeks and even months at a time. It’s a risky move, and only time will tell if the gamble paid off.