After the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer, plenty of Manchester United fans believed that it would be his fellow Portuguese, Nani, who would be the man to step up in his place. But on Saturday, as has so often been the case this season, Manchester United found that Nani once more failed to deliver on his considerable promise.
Only when Nani was replaced did United click into gear, and ironically it was Nani’s replacement, Ryan Giggs who set up two goals. And while Nani was all tricks but woeful inefficiency, Giggs was pure efficiency, plain and simple.
It appears that Nani now finds himself at a similar crossroads to that which his former team-mate found himself in early in his United career. While United are looking for Nani to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, it is not the overindulgent winger from his first seasons at United they want, but the brutally effective goal-scoring attacker from his later years.
Sadly, Nani continues to remain distinctly similar to the former.
On Saturday, again, it was a similar tale. Too often he overindulged, choosing either to go it alone or shoot on sight, when a team-mate was better placed. Wayne Rooney for one was all too often distinctly unimpressed.
Indeed, United keeper Ben Foster, discussing the impact Nani’s replacement Gigg’s made, pointed out that: "You saw the difference he made when he came on. He found himself in a position where other players might have lashed it across but he picked someone out and it was 1-0." You need not be a genius to work out who the "other player" was.
But Sir Alex Ferguson came out and defended Nani after the match, and said: “He is only 22 years of age, so he’s young. He is brave and he is quick.”
For his part Nani, who was taunted by the Stoke fans with chants of “You’ll never be Ronaldo” has admitted he will speak to his former team-mate, and said: "Cristiano and I talk a lot. We speak about my own game and he gives me confidence to go out and perform."
But if Nani really wants to improve, perhaps he would do well to learn from two of his venerable colleagues at United, Paul Scholes, and the aforementioned Ryan Giggs.
Scholes has been enjoying something of a renaissance this season, poor tackles aside, as he has continued to cement his reputation as one of England’s finest central midfielders. Scholes’ game has always retained a glorious simplicity to it, which is fundamental to his success. No thrills, no spills, just unerringly accurate passing and shooting.
Indeed, this season, after a couple of relatively fallow seasons, his statistics speak for themselves. Against Birmingham, Scholes made 100 passes, 97 of them successful, while against Wigan, he made 41 passes, with 40 of them successful. Against Stoke City on Saturday, his record stood at 70 passes, 67 of them finding their targets.
"No wonder their manager Tony Pulis described him as “the best player on the pitch by a country mile.”
While Giggs, what more can be said about Ryan Giggs? Last season’s player of the year award was widely assumed to be a tribute to a player whose career was nearing its conclusion, but Giggs seems determined to continue to revel in his prolonged Indian summer.
Having spent last Sunday tormenting Manchester City, and giving Micah Richards the runaround, his arrival on Saturday was decisive. His first contribution was to latch onto a Fletcher throughball and set-up Berbatov to score United’s first, then a perfectly weighted free-kick set up O’Shea to head home. Two assists-two goals-game over.
Giggs’ game is more rounded than in his youth, his pace may have declined, but his intelligence and perceptiveness have sharpened. Sir Alex Ferguson said: “Ryan’s intelligence was the deciding factor.” While Ben Foster declared: “Ryan is different class isn’t he? A cool head in those situations is exactly what we needed and that is Ryan Giggs all day.”
Certainly in these two players, Nani can have no greater role models in how to meld sheer talent with both efficiency and consistency. Sometimes in football, less can be a lot more, and while these two are capable of spectacular, quite often it is the simple things they do which can make them so effective.
There is a lesson there for Nani, and should he be able to learn from Scholes and Giggs’ continued success, then he may one day be able to follow in their footsteps and perhaps write his own name into Old Trafford folklore.