When Manchester United bought Nani for £18m from Sporting Lisbon in 2007, it was widely believed that Sir Alex Ferguson had proposed the young Portoguese winger to be the successor of the illustrious Ryan Giggs. However, up until last season, there were still questions posed about Nani's viability.
Some observers were unconvinced about the player's game intelligence, others felt that whilst Nani remained capable of moments of individual brilliance, he lacked the ability to stay focused through 90 minutes—however the biggest and perhaps most accurate criticism, was that the young Nani couldn't break into the Manchester United starting 11 like his compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, the argument for Nani's case has always been that putting up with his shortcomings here and there was the price to pay for player with talent such as his.
Last season was Nani's best season by far for Manchester United, yet it was telling that towards the crunch stages of the season, he was replaced on the starting lineup by Antonio Valencia.
Speaking in March this year, Ryan Giggs had this to say about Nani's impact in the team:
I think this season he’s obviously stepped it up. Nani’s probably been our most effective player this season because he’s made so many goals and scored so many important goals. So it’s great to see him improve, because he has all this talent and just needed to step up to the next level. He’s done that and will continue to do that.
Is Nani the natural heir to Ryan Giggs?
Yes it is true that Nani has needed time to establish himself at United and it is true that he has taken longer to develop his talent than Ronaldo—but should there be anything wrong with that?
Not making the starting line-up for the Champions League final last season would have been a huge disappointment for Nani, but the player is clearly not letting it get him down. Nani has continued his great form of last season this season, and is scoring goals, providing assists and is providing growing evidence that he is a force that will have to be reckoned with sooner rather than later.
The Portuguese winger’s brilliance in 2010/11 season bagged him the players’ player of the year award last May, and that accolade marks a clear change in his standing within the Reds’ ranks. Moreover, it has sent his confidence skyrocketing.
Speaking on his ambitions to be recognised as the best player in the world, Nani said:
That’s one dream I’ve got: to be the best in the world but I don’t let it frustrate me.
I’m not like: ‘I have to be the best in the world’, because I have other priorities like winning trophies with the team. Hopefully, when I have finished playing football, people will say ‘Nani was a fantastic player who won a lot of titles and beat records at the club’ or something like that. I know I have the condition to be among the select best players in the world, but I have to work hard and show that. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, but what I can promise is that as long as I am a football player, I will do my best to try to get there.
Is Luis Nani the natural heir to Ryan Giggs? Perhaps yes, perhaps not. However, what he is or could become is Manchester United's next world conqueror—and for all intents and purposes, I'd hazard that that qualifies him for Ryan Giggs' heirdom and something even greater.