Nani State: Fergie Outburst Spells End For United's Undervalued Show Pony


As if by Halloween magic, this week's spooky League Cup schedule brought us a whirlwind of entertainment, with tricks and treats aplenty.

There was god-awful defending, clinical finishing and experimental team selections galore. However, in a wider sense, we've not actually learned a great deal from it all, bar the absolute confirmation that Paolo Di Canio has lost his proverbial marbles.

That said, one rather significant thing did come out of this midweek's series of goalfests, and it concerns Manchester United winger Nani.

The Portuguese star scored once himself and was at the centre of all that was good about United in attack at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. And yet his manager publicly lambasted him after the game. This episode is indicative of the impossible situation Nani has found himself in since arriving in England five years ago.

In years gone by, Sir Alex Ferguson tolerated imperfections in his flair players. Contrary to his reputation as a hard-nosed disciplinarian, the wily old Scot has a track record for cutting some slack with his attacking talent.

As such, Eric Cantona - ever the maverick - was allowed enough freedom to operate, and it led to the first titles of United's Premier League era domination.

Later, Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole may have been at loggerheads on the training ground and Dwight Yorke may have been canoodling with glamour models of an evening, but Fergie seldom challenged them, in public at least.

Cristiano Ronaldo was indulged beyond the norm during his formative years at United. Once a mere show pony himself, the cheeky winker grew into a responsible player under Ferguson's softly softly approach, and with maturity came consistency, strength, leadership, and Ronaldo's eventual status as the world's greatest footballer.

So why has Nani been treated so differently? What is it about his ways that make him such a scapegoat?

I can't help feeling that the problem with Nani is superficial. On the surface he is one of the most skillful footballers in the Premier League. But conversely, many of his antics are at odds with the British ideal of a footballing hero.

As such, his quirks will always be held against him. Football people - fans and pundits among them - are fickle. When this most unique of talents is on his game, everyone sings his praises, but as soon as he isn't, the daggers come out.

Fans in this country look for a leader, a 100% performer who goes through tackles, chases lost causes and grins and bears it when an opponent tries to break his leg. These are all reasons why England may never win another World Cup. But more pertinently for Nani, these are all reasons why his Manchester United shelf-life is nearing its end.

There are countless examples of footballers who can experience a loss of form without anyone passing comment, because they work hard, keep their upper lip stiff and make a point of clapping the supporters upon the final whistle.

On the other hand, there are players like Nani, who are scapegoats waiting to happen. According to many an internet forum, the Portuguese is lightweight. He has a silly haircut and an annoying face. He falls over a lot. He takes more pride in his sommersaulting celebration routine than his final ball delivery.

All of these opinions are either unfounded or irrelevant. Yet all of them form the basis of Nani's tarnished reputation, be it in the eyes of fans, pundits or, it seems, his own manager.  

By the very nature of his role, Nani is destined to both fail and succeed, often in equal measure. He's a risk versus reward type of player; an old fashioned winger who, in one drop off the shoulder can beat a player and whip a dangerous ball into the box, or get tackled and end up in a whining heap on the ground as the opposition launch a counter attack.

That's exactly what happened at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. With the game won at 3-2 and Nani wondering forward down the right hand side in stoppage time, he tried to beat his man, was tackled and thus Chelsea launched an attack from which they won a late penalty. The penalty was converted by Eden Hazard, extra time ensued, and United were soon dumped out of the cup by a rampant Blues side; two goals coming courtesy of Daniel Sturridge's opportunism and Ramires' lung bursting energy.

After the match Sir Alex Ferguson singled only one of his players out for criticism.

"I can't believe Nani. All we needed to do was see the game out with good possession. Nani is experienced but he's a player who wants to beat men and I discourage him from that. In that situation, if he'd kept the ball at the corner flag, the game's over."

Never mind the fact Chelsea should've had a cast iron penalty two minutes earlier for hand ball.

Never mind young defender Wooton's clumsy challenge on Ramires.

Never mind the schoolboy error from Michael Keane that led to Chelsea's fourth goal, or Ryan Giggs' refusal to track Ramires for their fifth.

Never mind the fact Nani had, thirty minutes earlier, scored a magnificent goal, starting the move with a swift change of direction, then playing a one-two with Anderson before chipping Peter Cech delightfully - it was the kind of goal that was both simple and incredibly difficult; it took your breath away.

Never mind any of that. In Ferguson's mind, the defeat was all Nani's fault.

Nani got off on the wrong foot at United. In the space of four years he'd gone from an orphan who'd been deserted by both his parents on the tough Santa Filomena estate in Lisbon, to Manchester United's marquee signing. Aged just 21 and with less than two seasons under his belt with Sporting Lisbon, the pressure and step up must've seemed insurmountable.

In his fledgling appearances after his 2007 arrival, he wriggled down the wing with less than impressive results. Charged with matching the standards and later filling the boots of his counterpart Ronaldo, he was unfairly judged. As such, he was perceived to have struggled with the power of the Premier League. At best, the jury was out.

"People sometimes seem to remember all the bad things," Nani has suggested. "But if you go back and look at some of the good things I have done here then you will see very good games. I have actually achieved more than people give me credit for."

Nani has a point. At the end of 2010/11, he was named in the PFA Team of the Year and voted United's player's player of the season. He scored ten goals in 49 games that year, and another ten in 40 last term.

But fast-forward to today, and he's started just six of his team's 14 games so far this season. Nani is still capable of brilliance as we saw on Wedenesday, but the Mancunian jury has settled on its verdict, and it seems their foreman, Mr Ferguson, has delivered their verdict.

There will be no shortage of suitors when Nani is made available for transfer, which will possibly happen this coming January but is more likely to be tied up in the summer of 2013.

I, for one, hope he finds a more loving home.

Because beyond the silly haircut and the annoying face, is a unique talent with tricks and treats aplenty.

Click here to read more from Bet.Unibet Editor Ben Cove.