Manchester United loanee Nani scored again for Sporting Lisbon as the Portuguese club overcame Schalke on Wednesday night. While United’s fans and players are missing out on European competition this season, Nani impressed once again and was integral to Sporting’s success.
It remains to be seen whether the player has a future at the club where his career began beyond this season, whether he will return to Old Trafford or seeks playing time elsewhere, upon the end of his loan deal.
Nani happy at Sporting
However his recent performances for Sporting in the Champions League appear to reflect that he is relishing his new found role as the club’s main man.
The player himself was quoted in the Manchester Evening News in September that he wasn’t happy at United.
“Playing for Manchester United was my dream but I suffered a dip in form,” he had said.
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“You can’t play well if you are not happy.”
“You can’t play well if you are not happy"
It was a statement that might be interpreted as a thinly veiled dig at his former club. The winger has largely failed to live up to the enormous potential that Sir Alex Ferguson invested in in 2007.
Sub-par form in Manchester
There were good moments for him at United against the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Bayern Munich and Arsenal. He was extremely unfortunate against Real Madrid in the Champions League second round during Ferguson’s last season at the club.
He was impressive in the game and crossed the ball that Sergio Ramos diverted into his own net. At that stage United were going through, but the winger was harshly sent off after challenging Alvaro Arbeloa for an aerial ball.
Nani was punished further as his club was then knocked out. The emotion of the situation got the better of his teammates and perhaps Ferguson himself and they failed to adapt to playing with ten men. There were reports that Nani was crushed with the referee’s decision and the consequences of it and was in tears in the dressing room after the game.
It was a moment which summed up his United career; one step forward, two steps back. The mercurial winger undoubtedly suffered in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo and then at times seemed to suffer even more so without his presence.
The return of the real Nani?
The 2010-11 season however was a good one for Nani. He was voted the club’s player of the year by his peers, after scoring nine goals and making 14 assists. It was hoped it would be a watershed year for the winger, but his true potential never emerged.
Despite this, he appears to have found a new lease of life in Lisbon. When Sporting fell behind early to Schalke, the Portuguese winger was the one driving his team on. Everything positive that the club initiated, seemed to run through him. He set up Brazilian full-back Jefferson to put Lisbon in front, before scoring the third goal himself.
Easing the pressure
It was his third in this year’s competition and reflected the fact that Nani has found new happiness at his former club. The winger is able to express himself more freely, knowing that the pressure of a strong bench is not as easily available in the Portuguese league as it is in the upper echelons of the Premier League.
He knows that should his team be losing, he won’t be the one immediately sacrificed and it is reflected in his more assured decision making. He is the main man and he knows it. Perhaps the player just needed to feel loved.
If he can return to Old Trafford in this form, then United may finally have found the player that they had hoped he would be back in 2007.