Nani fills Manchester United’s scapegoat position

Every club has its unsung heroes – players who are either unfairly criticised or simply under-appreciated. At bigger clubs where standards are permanently high, it’s very easy for a player to fall out of favour with impatient fans. Things are no different at Manchester United, particularly now that fans have an ever more vociferous online voice.

As Michael Carrick and Jonny Evans have slowly won over doubters, their previously held roles as ‘boo-boys’ need replacing. So far this season, the early signs are that Nani will take up that berth. On the surface, that seems every bit as harsh as doubting both Carrick and Evans’ value to the team. Strangely, when you think about it, Nani is a tricky footballer to analyse – the eye sees things that make him appear selfish, unintelligent and ultimately, for some people, dispensable.

Before going into any kind of details about Nani, it’s important to understand the role of a winger and the kind of freedom a wide player is allowed, particularly at United. The club play with natural width and have done regularly throughout their history. Traditionally, the central midfielders have been about function – winning the ball and shifting it accurately around the pitch – playing a percentages game to some extent. Wingers are often the players receiving the ball and can be expected to beat men and deliver crosses, helping to create goalscoring opportunities.

To really understand wingers, you have to think of their position allowing them to be ‘high risk’. To beat men, get crosses in and get in goalscoring positions requires skill and the ability to outwit opponents. When this works it looks brilliant, but when things go wrong – a failed flick, a misplaced pass, holding onto the ball too long – it’s one of the most frustrating things for fans and players. It’s almost verging on naive to think that ‘keeping it simple’ applies to wingers. Sure, some of the time they need to but even Antonio Valencia, the most predictable of wingers, often picks the harder route when faced with options.

Nani’s case is curious. Fast closing in on his 26th birthday and the list of Portugal’s top 10 most capped players ever – he should be reaching a point where he’s not only mature but consistent. For club and country he averages a goal every five games and has a similar looking ratio for assists. On the face of it, he’s a valuable player. Yet, fans are completely split over him and many are happy for him to leave.

In fact, it seems United themselves were willing to part with Nani too. All summer long there were rumours that they were entertaining bids for him – a theory that is only strengthened by the pursuit of Lucas Moura. Nani himself has been quite vocal about wanting to stay and was unable to agree a contract with Zenit St Petersburg because he made his wage demands purposely high to ensure they would pull out of the deal.

His start to this season has been uninspiring at best. With Valencia firmly first choice on the right hand side he’s more often than not been used on the left – it allows him to cut inside onto his right foot but also somewhat imbalances the shape of the team. What’s gone unnoticed is his improved defensive work with his tracking back markedly better than in past years. That’s hardly enough to appease fans who rightly are angry with his errors, really simple errors too. Inability to complete passes or play the obviously correct ball are basic skills that, at present, are not good enough. So much so that against Liverpool at the weekend, he was taken off at half time and is likely to have been a recipient of a Fergie-blast that he said he told Sky he handed out to the team.

Would I get rid of Nani though? At present, no, as it would be hard to justify unless the money was extortionate. One reason that Nani may have gotten lax is because of the lack of competition. Only Ashley Young is challenging him for the left wing berth and at present he’s injured. Fergie’s not against playing other players out of position there though – Welbeck and Giggs have been used wide left whilst Kagawa, Buttner and even van Persie could do a job if need be. The fact is though that the wide areas represent the one part of the pitch where United don’t have sufficient back-up or competition. Even in the U21s and U18s there is a serious lack of natural wingers – maybe part of the wider trend that’s seeing managers prefer narrow wingers.

Maybe most importantly with Nani is that he’s one of the few genuinely creative and unpredictable players in the side. For every frustrating moment he has, there’ll be an assist or spark that’ll lead to a chance. Players can’t just be judged on numbers and stats but Nani often comes out on top as the most productive winger in the league. Love him or hate him, losing a player who has played a key part in so many goals over the past few years would be hard to replace.

Despite what he thinks and hopes, he’ll never be one of the very top players in the world but that’s ok. He might disagree but he doesn’t have to be like Ronaldo, in fact he’s already shown himself to be much more of a team player than Ronaldo ever was. Nani’s been as valuable as any other player since January 2010 – he just needs to turn his current form around for people to see his worth again.

Nani’s value is best found when attempting to try and fathom out who could feasibly replace him and have a similar level of impact. Fans don’t have to like him but the nature of being a tricky winger means that many things he’ll try won’t come off. Every club has a scapegoat but Nani, despite an erratic start to 2012/13 is an odd choice for ours.

13 Comments on "Nani fills Manchester United’s scapegoat position"

  1. Superb article. Totally agree with everything you’ve said.

  2. I’ve been a Nani apologist for a few years now, but do think his start to the season has been quite poor. particularly in the Liverpool game, he was the worst of a bad bunch in that first half. the bad decisions and misplaced passes will be forgivable if he can get back to providing a few moments of excellence each game. just hope this contract situation isn’t preying on his mind and negatively affecting his performance.

  3. Fully in agreement with this article, especially the bit about the inherent element of frustration that comes with the position/role that Nani occupies, which many seem all too happy to overlook when analysing him.

    People also seem to have acute amnesia about the last full season he played (10/11), where he emerged which something like 18 league assists and 10 league goals – basically our (second?) most influential attacker in a title-winning team.

    He was poor against Liverpool, but created chance after chance against Glatasaray, on which our strikers singularly failed to capitalise. If they had done, hed’ve come out of the game as its most influential failure.

    Without trying to transfer the blame for his poor performances, if the chances he does create were being put away as they should, I should imagine his confidence would receive a welcome boost.

  4. I of course mean most influential player, not failure!

  5. Excellent article Doran which I sense/feel is written with a good balance.
    I as I have tweeted a few times lately I would personally take Nani on my back to a club that would buy him. I write that as a result of love affair that has gone sour.
    How many times over the past seasons has he divided opinion with some woeful performances and I fought tooth and nail for him. END OF!

    He has had too many re-births and imo is a liability in his current form to the team.

  6. he is the best player united have after van persie or most talented if you like, unfortunately ferguson so mismanages him by putting him on the right flank, and allowing quite dull but energetic valencia take his best position – this obviously doesn’t add in terms of nani confidence. and of course there are so many idiots beteween manchester supporters who knows fuck all about football – the only thing they know listening and doing exactly that senile fergie says

  7. Must admit, I for one was swaying towards the more negative side on Nani through recent games. But this article has opened my eyes some-what, I’m sure he’ll turn his form around and have a big say on where we finish in the league this year.

  8. Couldn’t care less what a lot think of nani and that he’s United scapegoat at the moment and to be honest I don’t think he gives a shite either. Yes he had a bad 1st half vs lfc and was rightly subbed at ht and hasn’t been in the best form since the season started but imo Nani is a quality player! For me he is simply world class on his day and not many wingers can replace him in my opinion. Yes he’s a frustrating player but people need to get behind the lad! There’s no point bashing him after a poor performance from him and as long as he’s a United player I’ll continue to support the lad fullstop!

    Is Ashley Young just as frustrating as Nani?? I think so and I’m sure a lot would probably agreee with me on that one. Youngs been out for a few weeks now and I fear for the lad when he comes back and has a few poor games. Such is life supporting the best team in world football. We as fans expect our players to play well every time they step onto the pitch. Fans don’t realise how difficult a game like football actually is. We think players and especially MUFC players are like robots. Well its just not like that. Simples.

    I really hope Nani starts vs Spurs on Saturday and performs well – like I and a lot of Nani fans know he can! Let’s not forget that the season before last, Nani racked up the most assists in the league and was voted players player of the year. Another thing let’s not forget, Nani is NOT a left winger people! His best position is on the right! Its where he plays for portugal every time he plays for them. So he’s not playing in his preffered position for United and I’m sure he’s not too pleased about it. We all know he’s better on the right but that’s a different story altogether with AV irreplaceable in that pos for the moment so I really feel the lad is being unfairly judged at the moment! Just give the lad time please people…

  9. Ok my bad, silva I think got more assists than nani that season but ye whatever, Nani was up there…

  10. @ kanch – I agree. He was superb vs galatasary although he missed that pen. Created so many chances. I have no doubt he’ll be back to his best in no time.

  11. ooo nani, he flatters 2 deceive, i hope he wuld bak up nd cum gud in the nxt couple if games. He nds 2 bring the spark we knw him of nd prove us wrong. B’cos we beginning 2 believe we can rely on him in the most difficult games. He nds 2 be consistent nd relyble in sum games, we luv his style nd trickery but he must add sum seriousness nd efficiency like valencia does 4 us, i thnk wen he is able 2 do it he culd win us bak(fans).

  12. Yes Nani hasn’t been at his best in the past few games but hey, cut the Lad some slack. We all know Nani is a brilliant player. He has always been, though not consistent but when he’s in form, he sparkles. I think he just need little time. I’m s ure he’d pick up his form and play a big role in our title fight this season

  13. In my own opinion Nani is a superb lad, he’Ƨ simply a wing king and I don’t think man united can be any better without Nani and I don’t think A.valencia is worth a player to be subtituted for Nani

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