What Manchester United Must Do with the Enigma That Is Nani

Rob BlanchetteFeatured ColumnistDecember 5, 2013

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21:  Sir Alex Ferguson the manager of Manchester United talks with Nani during a press conference ahead of the UEFA Champions League Group C match against Benfica held at Old Trafford on November 21, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

On his day, he is the most glorious sight to behold. He is full of tricks and speed, a magician with the balance of a gymnast. A player who can destroy an opponent with a change of running direction, in the blink of an eye. 

The problem is though, Luis Nani knows very little about the word "consistency."

COIMBRA, PORTUGAL - OCTOBER 15:  Nani of Portugal celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier match between Portugal and Luxembourg at Estadio Cidade de Coimbra on October 15, 2013 in Coimbra, Portugal.  (Photo
David Ramos/Getty Images

It is amazing to think that the player has been at Old Trafford for seven years now after his blockbuster £20 million transfer from Sporting Lisbon. In that time he has amassed a haul of 11 club trophies, including four Premier League titles.

However, even with all the honours, after all these years it feels like we have not seen anything resembling his best. 

In 2011 it seemed Nani was ready to take on the world. His form was electric as he was voted United's "Player of the Year" by his fellow professionals, but in March that year it all started to wrong after one reckless tackle by Jamie Carragher. 

After that subsequent injury Nani could not hit the heights again, and United fans have been waiting ever since. There is no doubting the depth of the player's quality. You do not win in excess of 70 caps for a nation such as Portugal if you are not good. 

MOSCOW - MAY 21:  Cristiano Ronaldo (L) of Manchester United holds the trophy with Luis Nani of Manchester United during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Manchester United and Chelsea at the Luzhniki Stadium on May 21, 2008 in Moscow, Russia.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Under Sir Alex Ferguson he was brought along slowly but surely, and was "being prepared" to take over the mantle from Cristiano Ronaldo, and become United's great attacking threat. But across his six full seasons in English football, Nani has not once reached double figures in the league scoring charts.

This cannot be described as "progression." 

Now it is up to David Moyes to carry on the development of this frustrating enigma. However, there is a chance he might be sacrificed for the greater good of the manager's plan. After United's disappointing start to the season, no one's place in the squad is sacrosanct.

Since Moyes' arrival there has been an improvement in both Nani, and his wing partner Antonio Valancia. In Sir Alex's later days both players were clearly bereft of confidence, and this translated into their form. 

There is a touch of swagger in Nani's game again, but the question is simple: "Is it all too little, too late?"

Moyes needs to find a way to make Nani central to his plans, and a move away from 4-4-2 would help the player. I do not believe there is a problem in the main with Nani's work rate, but the defensive side of the game stifles his creativity. 

A move to 4-2-3-1 would aid Nani greatly. The extra freedom to come inside from the left, on to his favoured right foot, would allow him to play the sort of offensive football he enjoys. He does not enjoy tracking back in a 4-4-2, and it shows in the quality of his work.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 16:  Shinji Kagawa (C) of Manchester United talks to his team manager David Moyes during a first team training session ahead of their UEFA Champions League match against Bayer Leverkusen at Carrington Training Ground on Sep
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The formation would also benefit Shinji Kagawa and Wayne Rooney, who could also operate in a three behind a striker. Adnan Januzaj would also blossom in such a tactical scenario. Even Robin van Persie would be comfortable dropping back into this position. 

But it all depends on how Moyes wants to develop his squad in the coming year.

If Moyes decides to stick with 4-4-2, I think this will effectively be the end of Nani. Seven years on, and the player is still not a great exponent of the system. He needs more attacking freedom, but maybe Moyes is the wrong manager to make that happen.

Nani is in the "last chance saloon" to cement his legacy as a United player. If Moyes can finally find the key to unlock all that talent he is bursting with, his later years in a red shirt might be more celebrated than his earlier ones.