Nani is no longer just Ronaldo-lite

by William Abbs

Friday, April 9th, 2010

As Nani prepared to take a Manchester United corner during the second half of the club’s Champions League quarter-final second leg against Bayern Munich on Wednesday night, he paused and appealed to the referee for a few seconds’ respite. The winger was bent double, apparently catching his breath, but when he straightened up to take the kick he seemed to become light-headed and quite visibly took a step back to steady himself.

Having just sprinted from the halfway line to meet a through ball, only to see his shot blocked by Hans-Jorg Butt in the Bayern goal, Nani was entitled to be out of puff. However, the Portuguese appeared to be in danger of fainting. It was that sort of night at Old Trafford. Despite going into a three-goal lead with breathtaking verve during the first 43 minutes, United’s goal had fallen under siege from the German side during the second half. The momentum of the game was flowing overwhelmingly with Bayern. Ivica Olic’s goal had put the Croatian’s side back in the tie just before half-time, while United had lost Rafael and Wayne Rooney from their starting eleven due to, respectively, indiscipline and injury. So when Nani was allowed to run beyond the Bayern back line, he had a chance to break the siege and restore United’s 3-goal cushion. He didn’t take it, and his reaction by the corner flag a few moments later showed what a strain the game was putting on the players not just physically but psychologically too.

As he stepped up to take that corner following Butt’s save, then, Nani knew he’d missed more than the chance to score United’s fourth goal and possibly put the club through to the competition’s semi-finals. So long regarded as Ronaldo-lite, Nani started the season terribly but his effectiveness from wide positions has become one of the key features of United’s performances since the turn of the year. Completing his hat-trick in front of the Stretford End, with United’s backs to the wall against formidable and familiar opposition in the shape of the German four-time European Cup-winners, would have afforded Nani a moment as iconic as any of those enjoyed by the former World Player of the Year who departed United last summer. Just days after Easter, Nani could have completed his own resurrection as a United player with a more composed shot on goal.

Nani should not be too hard on himself. He was excellent on Wednesday night, posing both a threat from the left wing and attacking the penalty area when the ball was with Antonio Valencia on the other flank. Both of Nani’s goals came from crosses from the Ecuadorian; the two are beginning to work in tandem for United. When Rooney was substituted, it was Nani who moved into the middle to act as the spear with which to counterattack – the role that Ronaldo increasingly took on as his United career developed. Nani’s stellar display against Arsenal at the Emirates might have had a happier result for United, but the responsibility that the Portuguese is increasingly being given in big games – and the way in which he is vindicating his selection with displays of intensity on the ball and awareness off it – is proving the fans who had written him off as a United player to have been somewhat hasty, this writer included.

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  • Dave

    I have always argued that Nani has more potential than Ronaldo, I really think that he could go on to outshine the show pony that is Ronaldo.

    United fans have shown a little more faith in him and is now producing some really good football, good luck to the lad.

  • dexylongshot

    He has improved a bit but he is far too inconsistant for me, he has 3 or 4 good games all season and the rest has been average, i’d start with Ji Sung over him, The Asian is the most under-rated player in the Prem.

  • Keith O’Connell

    I think Glenn Helder was Nani lite…

    He is actually showing his class on a more consistent basis now, and I am another who is having to have a bit of a rethink in his case. Still has a way to go though…

  • W.A.

    Glenn Helder, there’s a blast from the past!

    I wrote Nani off earlier on this season, when Obertan was warming the bench ahead of him. He’s absolutely not at Ronaldo’s level yet, that would be ludicrous. But, although Ronaldo was astonishingly consistent for his final 3 seasons at United, his form was patchy for the first 3. Nani has just finished his third season, so maybe he can push on now just like Ronaldo did.

  • Mike

    I don’t like him. He is more consistant now so fair play

  • Cristiano Ronaldo

    L. Messi is awesome, but Ronny is alot better 🙂

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