Man Utd’s Ongoing Struggles Have Made Fans Finally Appreciate Nani
Nani was often labelled a luxury show pony during his Man Utd career | Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It has taken years of Manchester United struggling for fans to truly appreciate Nani and how good a player he was during seven trophy-laden years at Old Trafford.

A quick search for the veteran winger, now 34, on social media reveals nothing but love for someone who won four Premier League titles, the Champions League, two League Cups and was even nominated for the Ballon d’Or at one stage.

Nani won eight major trophies with Man Utd | Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

But that adoration is the product of time and hindsight. Nani was indeed remarkable at times during his United career, yet he suffered badly with direct comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Not only was Ronaldo, by then already on his way to becoming one of the best players of all time, a Portuguese winger, he had made the same journey as Nani to Manchester from Sporting CP.

Nani wasn’t as good as Ronaldo because nobody in the world was as good as Ronaldo.

The criticism levelled at Nani was that he was unplayable on his day – that day wasn’t often enough, according to the detractors expecting a second Ronaldo. Even still it is a caveat of modern praise.

Nani often suffered from comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo | MN Chan/Getty Images

Ronaldo was a freak of nature who was at it pretty much every single game, especially during the time they were United teammates. Nani was far more normal, even though he was still very good.

Back then, Nani was a valuable squad member who chipped in with goals and assists as a young rotational part of a very good United side that conquered England and Europe.

After Ronaldo left in 2009, Nani stepped up and United remained successful. But his output wasn’t the same, nor as consistent, as the player fans believed he would replace. To suggest it should have been is unfair and took away from his reputation as a fine player in his own right.

43 & 226 – No player to play over 5000 minutes of @premierleague football for @ManUtd averaged an assist as frequently as @luisnani for the Red Devils (one every 226 minutes). Returns.

— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 17, 2020

Always capable of changing a game with a moment of brilliance, as countless YouTube highlights videos will demonstrate, his best season at United came in 2010/11. He played 49 times in all competitions, the most in a single campaign in his career to date, and was a chief source of creativity and goals. His performances contributed to United’s record breaking 19th English league title and reaching the Champions League final. That was also the year he was nominated for the Ballon d’Or.

After two injury hit seasons, Nani was ushered out of Old Trafford in 2014, first on loan and then permanently, as the Louis van Gaal era brought mass changes. He was not alone in being so ruthlessly culled, with unexpected departures for Danny Welbeck and Rafael da Silva.

Quality and game-changing ability has been depressingly rare at United and how fans have been crying out for a player like Nani, albeit not the man himself, who became a journeyman after 2015.

Man Utd badly need players of Nani’s former quality | SHAUN BOTTERILL/Getty Images

For years, United fans were spoiled with success as trophies flowed. The sublime was mundane when you are watching the best perform and win every most weeks. Nani suffered because of that at the time. Now, he is at last getting the credit he deserved back then.

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