The Maturation of Nani
“To be mature means to face, and not evade, every fresh crisis that comes”
Ten months ago it seemed Nani’s days at Manchester United were numbered. His performances were sporadic and his great potential remained largely untapped. Publically criticising Sir Alex Ferguson should have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
It appeared that Nani was harbouring for a move in January but Ferguson had other ideas. Presumably Ferguson traded the hairdryer in and elected to place a shoulder around Nani’s slumped shoulders because his form soon picked up.
In fact, he excelled in the latter stages of the last campaign. From totally destroying Gaël Clichy at the Emirates, he then notched a brace against Bayern Munich before scoring with a sumptuous chip against Spurs. In 2010, the proverbial penny appeared to have dropped for Nani; few could have seen the turnaround coming.
12 months ago, United fans hoped the blow of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure would be softened by his fellow Portuguese winger. Nani is rightly keen to establish his own identity but it seems his career is destined to be tenuously linked to Ronaldo’s. By treading a similar path, throwing in multiple stepovers and using copious amounts of hair gel, Nani is emulating Ronaldo in many ways. But whilst Ronaldo evolved the predatory instincts of a striker, Nani has been finely honing his skills as a more creative winger.
In attempting to break free from the “poor-man’s Ronaldo” tag he was lumbered with, Nani needed to grow as both a player and a person. If anyone had any doubt of Nani’s maturation, they were soon silenced in the past few weeks.
It was Nani who shouldered much of the blame for the dropped points at Craven Cottage. After his missed penalty late in the game (which was ironically reminiscent of Ronaldo in its execution), Fulham grabbed an unlikely point from the jaws of defeat. The Nani of old, the one who made those ill-thought-out comments back in November, may have caved in and let it drain his confidence. Ferguson himself may have even been reluctant to pick him. But since then he turned in a man of the match performance against West Ham in the next game and followed that with a two-assist showing at Everton.
There may have been a time in the embryonic stages of his career at Old Trafford when traits such as selfishness and petulance would have defined him. But there has been an acceptance of the collective importance of a team now. Consider his celebration against West Ham as an example. Rather than resort to his trademark flip, he embraced his teammates pointing to Wayne Rooney to show his appreciation. Whilst the acrobatics display Nani’s athleticism, his reluctance to take to the air showcased a realisation. By sacrificing personal posturing for the communal embrace, Nani is discovering that it is the team which must take precedence.
In interviews too, a more mature tone has been added to his boyish vocals. He is preaching from experience when he speaks of the advice he has give Bebé:
“Sometimes you try to show everything at first and things don’t go quite right. It is important to try and keep things simple, get your confidence up, and then show your quality.”
With the furore surrounding Bebé it is uplifting to see Nani take his fellow countrymen under his wing. Nani himself knows the transition to English football is difficult and his willingness to tutor Bebé can only help the newcomer.
Meanwhile on the pitch, Nani’s bright start to the season will need to continue if United are to challenge for honours this season. With Antonio Valencia now unfortunately side-lined for a lengthy spell, Nani has the chance to shine in his favoured right-wing position. One year ago, when he was asked to step up in the absence of another he appeared to buckle under the pressure, but this is a new, more focused Nani. Now he is more likely to seize the initiative, to revel in the increased role.
The team is currently over-reliant on its elder statesmen and the future so ominously hinges on the development of its raw talent. But Nani is one of the few bridging the gap. At 23, he has plenty of time to establish himself as one of the game’s most potent attacking players. At 23, he can also aid the development of the younger players still finding their feet in England. The maturation of Nani has begun.