Luis Nani. Or just Nani. You could be forgiven if you can’t seem to place him immediately. Given by the direction in which his career is headed he could end up as one of the many forgotten stars of this generation.
The obvious question is of course “Where did it all go wrong?” Well if Nani himself knew the answer to this question he wouldn't find himself stuck in this limbo. Make no mistakes. He’s not a teenager going through an identity crisis.
Over the hill?
Oh no, he is a 27-year-old professional footballer who seems to have lost his
way. By the way, he does play for the biggest club in the world.
It seems like just yesterday that he arrived at Old Trafford as a 20-year-old with lots of promise. TALENT and POTENTIAL despite what the dictionary says are derogatory words. They’re almost vulgar. Why? If the adjectives associated with a 27-year-old (by modern day definitions) are “talent” and “potential” it means one of two extreme things. A: He’s a late bloomer. Or B: It’s all media mumbo jumbo and he is just not good enough. It’s a bit cynical but it’s also true.
It was a long time ago that the “kid” was touted to be the next “Ronaldo”.
That analogy seems laughable now. Little did we know back then about the dark and mysterious intentions of the world of football. But back then he seemed like the real thing. He was quick, good with both feet and great dribbler. He ticked all the right boxes. He had an excellent first season. Four goals may seem meagre but his 41 appearances showed us just how much Sir Alex valued him.
He went on to win the “Double”, collecting the Champions League and Premier League medals in his début season in England. Not bad. Not bad at all. Things got better for the Portuguese winger in the following three seasons. He scored more goals and created far more.
His goals made you jump out of your seats and shriek in surprise. He sprouted his own wings and began to fly. He forged his career in the wake of Cristiano Ronaldo. At a time when assists were regarded as more valuable than gold Nani hit the jackpot. In 2011 he broke into the 23-man shortlist for the coveted Ballon d’Or. Sir Alex was of course not surprised at all!
That season as we all know was the closest Nani ever got to a unanimous acknowledgement of his talent, achievements and accomplishments. He seemed like the natural heir to the prestigious number seven jersey. But all’s not well that starts well.
Unfortunately footballers are judged by what they are now and not by what they were or what they had the potential to be. Ask Michael Owen. It’s not fair. It’s not rational. But that’s football. Today’s hero could be tomorrow’s dinosaur: extinct, forgotten and just one among many for the history books. Football is a zero sum game. Somebody wins, somebody loses.
His fall from grace has not been pleasant to watch. It’s been slow and painful. His life at Old Trafford which started as a frown of concentration has evolved into a scowl of frustration. Lights seem dimmer, tastes seem duller.
The absolute lack of form is not a minor headache which Nani can just sleep it off. It’s a migraine. We all know how annoying and frustrating they can be. A new era has begun at Manchester United. We don’t know as yet if Nani will be a part of that revolution or not. Only Van Gaal does.
Maybe his future lies in Italy or back home in Portugal where the leagues are supposedly “easier”. But he is a fighter. He’s hurt, he’s bruised. He may be down, but he is not out. Not yet. Not by a long chalk.
Don’t be surprised if you see him celebrating a goal with his world famous “Leap of Death” at Old Traford this season.