Nani: Unpredictable, underrated and underused

If you ask most people what they think of when talking about wingers, the words ‘flair’ and ‘pace’ probably come to mind. Certain positions on a football pitch are just meant for creative, sometimes maverick players and the wide positions are one of them.

Certainly at Manchester United, there has been a history of exciting wingers. From Charlie Mitten to George Best, Ryan Giggs to Cristiano Ronaldo – Old Trafford has seen quite a few. There have been some wingers who don’t have quite as much flair, such as David Beckham – but he could get away with it because he was so unbelievably accurate with his crossing and racked up a huge number of assists.

Nani is clearly one of the most talented players in United’s current squad but he looks to be on his way out, with strong rumours suggesting he has been given permission to speak to Monaco. In truth, this has been coming for the last year as it was quite clear he couldn’t agree a contract with the club. There’s been plenty of United fans who don’t seem bothered by this, and the usual words like “inconsistent” and “show-pony” have been coming out.

If people actually bothered to get past stereotypes, they would maybe think differently. Since Cristiano Ronaldo left in 2009 and Nani got more of an opportunity, he’s racked up 44 assists and 31 goals. I’d argue that’s anything but “inconsistent”, and it’s certainly more than any other winger at the club. What’s more, since August 2009 he has more Premier League assists than any other player in the COUNTRY. So if he’s “inconsistent” (yes I’ll continue to use these inverted commas) – then what does that make everybody else?

Nani is unpredictable and frustrating, yes – but that’s because his whole game is based on risk taking. Rather than just passing the ball 5 yards to the side he’ll try and take his full back on or play a through ball to his strikers. Surely that’s what wingers are there for, to take risks and create chances? And as the stats above show, he’s massively productive so he’s clearly doing his job.

Antonio Valencia is a good winger with an extremely limited skill set. He has one trick in his locker which is to push the ball past his man and rely on his speed and strength. When it works, it can be great, but when opponents suss him out he has nothing else to go back on.

Ashley Young is a very average player, who despite being a winger rarely takes people on and certainly doesn’t try anything different. He’s also by all accounts earning more than Nani, which is beyond belief. Mediocrity seems to be rewarded (Anderson anyone?) yet someone who’s better and has achieved far more is being sold.

Nani’s talent is undeniable – he’s quick, 2 footed, flexible, has great close control and dribbling ability (note: dribbling does not mean kicking and sprinting) and can get goals as well as assists. It’s only 2 years ago he was voted United’s Player of the year, got a spot in the PFA Team of the Year and was nominated for a B’allon d’Or. Last season he was massively hindered by injuries and the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson barely played him, probably as a result of the contract dispute. None of United’s wingers had a good year for one reason or another, yet Nani seems to be the one who gets the most stick. Let’s ignore the fact that he played the least games of the three, yet only had 1 assist less than Valencia, and scored more than the other two put together..

For some reason, because he hasn’t become the next Cristiano Ronaldo (who can?) people try and paint him as a failure. I’d argue that he’s been the victim of ridiculously high standards, as well as the fact that over the last 2 years, United have weirdly preferred graft rather than guile on the flanks. It’s not often you say that about a United team, especially one managed by Fergie.

If he’d been somewhere wingers were judged on creativity rather than how many tackles they make and how often they keep the ball with a 5 yard pass (Andre Villas Boas for example gives his wingers freedom to inflict maximum damage), then he would have had a more consistent run in the side, leading to more confidence and even better performances.

It’s probably a pipedream now but I honestly believe United are far better with Nani than without him. If he does go, I just hope their latest flair winger Wilfred Zaha doesn’t get the same treatment.

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