In November 2009, Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha, aka Manchester United’s Nani looked to be at the end of his Old Trafford career. The Portuguese winger, much maligned for being inconsistent and a show-pony, hit out at Sir Alex Ferguson in an interview with a Portuguese newspaper and was subsequently dropped for around six weeks.
During this period it was largely expected that the ex-Sporting Lisbon player was going to be on his way to either Juventus or AC Milan in the January transfer window. He had been at Old Trafford for two and a half years and despite high points, such as wonder goals against the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, these were overshadowed by low points such as his sending off against West Ham when he feigned injury when he himself had headbutted Lucas Neill. Berated by his own manager who agreed with Arsene Wenger’s anger when he had incited Arsenal players in an FA Cup tie by playing keepy-uppy in the middle of the pitch, many felt the boy from Cape Verde would never cut it as a Red Devil.
But something changed.
A heart-to-heart chat with Ferguson in January 2010 saw Nani given another chance and this time he grasped it. Impressive performances in a 4-0 league victory over Hull City and the Carling Cup semi-final victory over Manchester City saw the wide-man back in the United fans’ good books and a fixture in the starting XI. In his next match, an outrageous piece of skill on the right wing saw him leave Arsenal’s Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri and Denilson for dead at the Emirates Stadium and force an own goal out of Manuel Almunia.
The tide had turned and Nani was rewarded with a four year contract extension in March, something which seemed unthinkable just three months earlier. Further impressive goals against Bayern Munich, Tottenham and Sunderland saw Nani finish the 2009-10 season on a high, even if United were pipped to the title by Chelsea and knocked out in the Champions League quarter-finals. The winger had finally added consistency to his game and at last was racking up the plaudits. Alas, he was ruled out of the World Cup when, in typical Nani fashion, he injured his collarbone attempting an acrobatic overhead kick in training.
Devastated to miss out, Portugal boss Carlos Queiroz even claimed Nani had threatened suicide if he was left out of the squad as he felt he would recover soon enough to participate. But he put that behind him at the start of the 2010-11 season and along with Dimitar Berbatov has become key to United’s plans. The previously under-performing duo have either assisted or scored three quarters of the Red Devil’s 16 league goals. Nani is the top assist maker in the premier league both in the 2010-11 season and the calendar year 2010, and with Antonio Valencia ruled out for several months, looks to be making United’s right wing position his own.
Finally filling the boots of his friend and Portugal team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, it wouldn’t be too surprising if the rejuvenated number 17 finds himself in the running for the end of season gongs. Still just 23, it finally looks like he could be a key player for both Portugal and Manchester United for many years to come.