Nani has become a pivotal part of the Manchester United squad. His first season with United in 2007-2008 saw him slot into the side very easily, maybe a bit too easily.
His strike against Tottenham opened the fans’ hearts to the young Portuguese with a celebration based on his background in capoeira. In a debut season when you pick up a Premier League & Champions League winners medal it seems you have reached the top and as a 21-year-old it would undoubtedly be a tough task to live up to that standard every year.
Just this time last year Nani had vowed to take over from where fellow countryman Cristiano Ronaldo left off, setting the standard pretty high he looked promising but faded away as the months went on.
Nani cut a frustrating figure on the pitch playing on the left wing. He attacked defenders without knowing what his next move was, leaving himself open and vulnerable. His crosses and corners didn’t cause trouble in the box and rarely made contact with a fellow red.
Fans grew frustrated with Nani’s style as he often lost possession and attempted optimistic long distance shots to no success. Nani’s turnaround last January has to be one of the most dramatic ever seen from a United player who was then tipped to be sold in the January transfer window.
The key to Nani’s successful turn around is quite simply down to intelligence and maturity. When a young player has speed, skill and flare that can be enough to see you through a game with a decent performance but intelligence gives you that extra dimension.
Nani’s latest performances have seen him thinking ahead about his next move. His ability to hold the ball up to give players a chance to get into the box and his ability to spot a run from deep shows us the intelligent side to the 23 year old.
Manchester United are traditionally a team who like to play wide football and invest a lot of energy in their wingers. Nani’s ability to play on either wing has been something of a saving grace following Antonio Valencia’s horrific injury sustained against Rangers.
Nani shows his true potential on his natural right side and his ability to cut from the right and strike the ball with his left foot has all the hallmarks of a routine practised over and over again in Carrington.
Nani’s rise to promise has caught everybody’s attention and has not gone under the radar. The Portuguese international has almost assured himself a starting berth on the United team sheet thanks to his consistent performances which is an honour in itself especially under the ever vigilant Sir Alex Ferguson.
Just last Saturday Nani’s role in Manchester United’s victory over Tottenham at Old Trafford was again crucial and included the free kick that led to Nemanja Vidic’s header and the controversial goal by Nani to seal the victory.
Say what you like about the goal but Nani did what every footballer is taught when playing the game and that is simply play to the whistle. He saw an opportunity and took it, and that quite simply is down to intelligence.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.