[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ew Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal’s overarching emphasis is on attacking and free-flowing football, something that winger Nani surely can identify with.
However, the Portugal international was not deemed part of the new Old Trafford supremo’s plans upon his summer appointment and as such the 28-year-old is spending this season out on loan at Sporting Lisbon.
The flying winger moved to England from the same Portuguese club in 2007 and was being compared by some to compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo.
His eight years at the Manchester club have been a real mix of ups and downs, but it is fair to say that Nani was never going to reach the levels Ronaldo set at Old Trafford; there is an argument to suggest that he hasn’t really reached his own levels of potential.
During the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, the Portuguese trickster played a key role in both domestic competitions and in Europe, with his place in the starting XI being confirmed more times than not.
Seventeen Premier League goals and some exhilarating displays were the end product of these two campaigns, but after this Nani started to find himself on the sidelines. A total of only 14 Premier League starts over the course of the last two seasons shows his marginalisation.
However, despite his ability, Nani has frustrated the United fans too often during his time at Old Trafford.
When Ronaldo joined the club he was a raw talent that offered skill and speed but lacked end product; when he left the current Ballon d’Or holder had developed into a goal and assist machine.
The difference between the Real Madrid forward and Nani is that the United loanee still wastes good positions too regularly and his delivery and performance can be hot and cold.
This season back in Lisbon where it all started, the 28-year-old has relished the opportunity to play regularly, both domestically and in Europe, and as such is improving on a weekly basis.
In the 4-2 victory over Rio Ave at the weekend, Nani displayed his current levels of sky-high confidence by slotting home a penalty to open the scoring before delivering an inch-perfect cross onto João Mário’s head to set up the definitive third goal.
The Portugal international clearly feels at home and comfortable at Sporting and as a result his issues with consistency are starting to be blotted out.
Just what the future holds for his undoubtedly talented but unpredictable character remains to be seen.
Amid transfer rumblings linking him with a move away from the club last season, Nani somewhat surprisingly signed a new five-year contract with United which still has four years left to run.
Just where he fits in at United whilst Van Gaal is at the helm is debatable however, as the Dutchman’s preference for a bespoke 3-5-2 formation has eradicated the need or use of out-and-out wingers that are reluctant to defend – as Adnan Januzaj has found out this term.
Even one of the world’s best wingers, Ángel Di María, has been forced in-field to play centrally in midfield or as an out-and-out striker in Van Gaal’s system.
There is no doubt that Nani is more than good enough to feature regularly for United if he is at his best, while playing back in the Primeira Liga in his homeland seems like a step in the wrong direction.
In the short-term just having the opportunity to play regularly while back at Sporting this season is something of a rebirth for the gifted but at-times frustrating Nani.
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