There’s been stunning goals, there’s been tears and there’s been more than a fair helping of statements made over his love for Manchester United, but the standout feature of Nani’s return to Sporting Lisbon has been his renaissance as a player.
Prior to his loan move back to Portugal last summer the winger had hit rock-bottom in just about every sense of the word. The only thing that prevented David Moyes from offloading him mid-way through his miserly regime was an injury sustained in late 2013, and that pretty much sums up his fortunes at Old Trafford for as long as is worth considering.
Nani's poor reputation
As one of the perennial whipping boys when it came to criticism aimed at United’s first-team squad from the stands, Nani never really stood much chance of surviving Louis van Gaal’s cull of surplus.
The Dutchman’s shiny new plans, endorsed by an avalanche of financial backing, left no margin for those seeking shelter from the harsh realities of expectation that come with being a United player, and similarly to Tom Cleverley and Anderson that’s all Nani was doing.
Yet unlike Cleverley and Anderson the 28-year-old has proven in the past that he’s got the goods to deliver, even on the very biggest stages, when his confidence is high and the pressure is lifted. The obvious impression is that Nani is a player who suffers more when being harangued for poor form; he’s not the type to dig in and prove doubters wrong.
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The Sporting revival
Where better then to attempt his resurrection than where it all began? In quite a literal sense Nani’s move back to the Estadio Jose Alvalade was a regression - regardless of how emphatically he tried to deny it - but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a way of surrendering the progress he’s made so far. Quite the opposite actually. It’s enabled him to rediscover the sort of ability that led to him first becoming a prominent figure in European football.
This season Nani has more goals for Sporting than he managed in either campaign during his first spell at the club - eight - and he’s only two goals away from equalling his best ever term with United. It very much seems that rather than allow himself to drift off into the abyss the winger has decided to at least give fulfilling his potential one last attempt.
Glowing references from the Primeira Liga have resulted in the realistic prospect of Nani returning triumphantly to Van Gaal’s fold as a result. With the creative flair that has sparsely flecked his United career to date on show for the world to see the Dutchman might be inclined to take a closer look at him.
To welcome him back as a contender for a first-team spot, however, would be a mistake. Not just an oversight with regards to what’s best for Nani’s career, but also an over-estimation on Van Gaal’s part as to what he can offer his team moving forward.
The days of United being able to wait around for a player to come good, safe in the knowledge that it was no great loss if he didn’t, are over. Nani’s had his chances at Old Trafford and squandered virtually all of them.
In his place now the likes of Angel Di Maria roam, and if Van Gaal gets his way in the summer more players of the Argentine’s repute and pedigree - those who will prove invaluable in major European competition should the Red Devils achieve it - will arrive.
A direct consequence of the expected summer influx is that there will be more competition for places than ever before, and Nani, with his sluggish reputation still bogging him down like a ball-and-chain, can’t hope to compete.
No room at the inn
Instead Van Gaal should use his classy displays this campaign as a marketing tool in a bid to find a suitor who is willing to match his £100,000-a-week wage demands. Everton are known to be amongst those interested, and there’s sure to be other Premier League sides on the prowl for a player of such status come the end of the season.
For United though Nani would serve little purpose bar using up a portion of their wage bill each week; no matter how well he plays for Sporting the damage has already been done. Unfortunately for the 83-times capped Portugal ace Van Gaal will realise that he’d be making a mistake in taking another gamble. He’d be a fool if he doesn’t.
Manchester United fans, does Nani deserve another season at Old Trafford? Or should he instead be sold on in the summer? Let us know in the comments box below...