Since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009, many felt that it was time his Portuguese team-mate Nani stepped out of his shadow and became the next great winger at Old Trafford.

Nani arrived at Old Trafford in the summer of 2007 from Sporting Lisbon for a reported fee of £17m; a graduate of Sporting Lisbon's famous youth academy, he arrived with huge potential and was tipped to become a great player under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, who has nurtured many great talents including David Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt.

The Portuguese started brightly with a wonderful strike against Tottenham Hotspur - a goal he says is special to him because it was his first goal for the Red Devils.

Nani was said to have a similar playing style to Ronaldo at the time but many said that he was in the shadow if his Portuguese counterpart. He showed flashes of brilliance in his early Manchester United career but fell down the pecking order behind Ronaldo and, of course, Ryan Giggs for the wide positions in the starting 11.

In his first season at Old Trafford, Nani scored four goals and made 11 assists in 26 appearances in all competitions. In his second season, 2008/09, he scored six goals and made two assists in 31 appearances in all competitions.

Since the 2009/2010 season however, Nani has had more opportunities in the starting 11 to show why Sir Alex paid £17m for him at he age of 21.

He once again showed flashes of brilliance suggesting that he can be a top player but was always inconsistent to the Old Trafford faithful. He was always criticised for not playing consistently in a consecutive run of games but showed that on his day he is very hard to stop and contain. He has always had an eye for a spectacular goals and has a wonderful final delivery into the box and has the flair and trickery to get pass defenders and get himself out of tight situations.

His talent and potential was on full display in the second-leg of the quarter-final of the Champions League against Bayern Munich. Nani scored two brilliant goals in the first half and was the player who showed that he can hurt Bayern after the sending off of Rafael Da Silva early in the second half. After that particular  display the Old Trafford faithful was of the belief that Nani would become the next star player and would go on to have the same impact that Ronaldo had. Nani would go on to score seven goals and make nine assists in 30 appearances that season in all competitions and was second best to Ashley Young, who had nine goals and 13 assists that season for Aston Villa.

The 2010/11 season was the campaign that Nani showed that he had improved immensely and was now one of best winger in the Premier League and in Europe. This was the season he had a good level of consistency and displayed his flair, skills and trickery to beat his opponents and be a huge threat for the Red Devils. 

He was very influential to United's surge into the Champions League final and was devastating in the Premier League. His season was, however, disrupted by injuries in the latter part of the season and was subsequently left on the substitutes' bench for the Champions League Final at Wembley. 

He recorded 10 goals and 15 assists in 48 appearances in all competitions for the season and was the top winger in the Premier League. Nani was then voted the Player's Player of the season by his Man United's team-mates. Due to his performances that season he was expected to improve and develop into a world-class player for the Red Devils.

With the arrival of Young in the summer of 2011, many newspapers were predicting that Nani would face more time on the bench at Old Trafford with Young and Antonio Valencia ahead of him in the pecking order. However, Nani went on to have a great 2011/12 season, recording 12 goals and 13 assists in all competitions and was only second best in assists to David Silva who recorded 19 assists and eight goals in all competitions. 

In the current season, 2012/13, Nani has recorded just three goals and five assists in just 19 appearances so far as he has had injury problems. In the current season so far he is most remembered for picking up a very controversial red card in the second-leg match of the Round of 16 against Real Madrid at Old Trafford which changed the course of the match which Man United was leading 1-0 but lost 2-1.

Nani now faces a challenge to save his Old Trafford career as his contract expires in the summer of 2014 and it is reported that he has refused to sign a new contact to stay at Old Trafford. However, according to the Daily Mail, Nani has vowed to show the manager that he can trust and believe in him for the upcoming games in the run-in to the end of the season. 

Nani told the Daily Mail: "I want to show the manager that he can trust me and can believe in me in every match. I want to show him my contribution can help win games." He went on to state that he is high on confidence so he is ready so earn the trust of Sir Alex. "Now my confidence is high and the best is still to come from me," he added. "This is my time and I believe I can be important for the team in these big games." 

He was out injured so Nani should be a bit fresh and could prove to be a big boost for the run-in for United. He will be looking to addd to his goal-tally and get more assists to help the Red Devils to a strong finish in the FA Cup and in the Premier League, where they currently have a 12-point lead over Manchester City.

The stats has shown that since the departure of Ronaldo, Nani has had the most goals and assists in the Premier League as a winger. With this in mind there is a good argument that he is now the best winger in the Premier League and with a Champions League crown under his belt, Nani is a proven player on the big stage but is still yet to win over many fans at Old Trafford due to his inconsistency. 

There is no doubt that he has he talent to become a world class player and, by entering his peak years, many wonder if he will fulfil his potential. He has been the best winger for United since 2009 and for this reason Ferguson wants to keep him at the club but the run-in to the end of the season is a critical time for him to prove his worth and could be used to judge if he should stay at the club or not. 

The likes of Angel Di Maria and James Rodrigues have been linked as possible replacements for him and with the signing of Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace, Nani now faces a tough challenge to prove he is still the wide player Sir Alex must call upon.   

 

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Nani
Luis Nani