Why Nani will play just as important a role next season

by Sam Peoples

Photo: Shaun Botterill (Getty Images)

Ever since the signing of Ashley Young, rumours have picked up pace that Nani may be looking for an escape route out of United in order to secure more first team football and even though Nani has re-affirmed his desire to stay at United, a small band of merry fans believe that now is the right time to cash in one of our prized attacking assets. What a load of tosh. How anyone can even justify the thought of selling Nani is far beyond my comprehension because of how important he has became in the United set up, especially over the last 12 months.

Nani was ecstatic when he won the award he earned over the season.

Nani joined in 2007 from Sporting Lisbon and ever since then, he has slowly grown into his time at Old Trafford and improved every season. One has to remember that Nani was forever in Ronaldo’s shadow when he was at United and rightly so, he was head and shoulders above Nani and deserved the first team place; ever since Ronaldo has left however, more starting opportunities came around for Nani and last season he made 48 appearances for United in all competitions, dwarfing his previous best tally of 41 in his debut season. Alongside more appearances, Nani has been providing more goals; in the 2007-8 season he scored 4, in the 2008-9 season he scored 6, in the 2009-10 season he scored 7 and in the 2010-11 season he scored 10. Now to me, that looks like steady and continual progression, exactly what you want from a player who is still only 24 and is yet to come into his footballing ‘prime’ at the age of 26. He was rewarded with his hard work at the Manchester United annual awards after he picked up the Player’s Player of the Season Award and this season was his benchmark season in a United shirt. He also topped the assist chart of the Premier League with a extremely impressive 18 assists and if next season see’s the same sort of progression that each season has, then he could be in for a staggering season.

Passes vs Liverpool, 2008
Passes vs Man City, 2011

Take a look back at how Nani played in the 2008 away fixture to Liverpool. In the 78 minutes Nani was on the pitch he managed to complete only 5, yes 5, passes out of an attempted 7. Forward track to the home fixture against Manchester City last season and it is not hard to see the progression the guy has made. In that game, Nani was fantastic; darting runs, accurate passing, mazy dribbles and even a goal and an assist to his name. Sure, I may well have chosen the extreme cases but what better way is there to show my point? It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that out of all of our midfielders last season, Nani attempted the most passes with 1512; so much of United’s attacking prowess last season, especially up until the January transfer window, depended on the movement and creative flow of Nani and up until the injury he sustained against Liverpool, his confidence was sky high. His natural game plays to the strengths of United, with our typical wide play being a key feature of our style of football that has brought us so much success over the years and with a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation looking the more likely next season, it is a trend set to continue.

It is not only with his game-play that Nani has improved but his general attitude has come on leaps and bounds after SAF placed his trust in the young Portuguese star. He seems to have changed his attitude and work ethic for the good, especially in the last 12 months, looking to secure a team victory more so than an individual performance. Sure, he can still be quite aggravating when it comes to taking a shot when a pass is also an option but a successful team needs characters like this. When Ashley Young steps in next season, the only thing it should do for Nani’s game is improve it and give him even more creative freedom, as the pressure will not simply be on his shoulders any more to create goalscoring chances.

Anybody who even considers the┬ápreposterous┬ápossibility of selling Nani at this point is just plain stupid.┬áSAF took a gamble in placing so much faith in the progression of Nani especially for the fact that Nani spoke critically about SAF to the press, something which has seen other United players (Stam and Beckham spring to mind) forced out of the exit door. To my mind, it has paid off dividends already and looks only to get more and more rewarding. His trophy season last campaign will have done the world of mental good for Nani and with a player like him, confidence is an essential part of his game. It would be a terrible loss to United if we didn’t have the jinking, darting runs of Nani in our team next season and whilst the tenacity of Park Ji Sung and the reliability of Giggs are of equally paramount importance, we can’t possibly afford to lose the variety than Nani brings to the team. Having the quartet of Nani, Young, Valencia and Rooney all drifting to and fro the wings should give United the sort of squad depth that wins championships and I am confident, very confident, that the purchases we have made so far will not dent the growth of any of our current squad members. The only way is up.

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