Premier League Career: Manchester United (2007-2014)
Having won over 100 caps for Portugal, Nani has gained a wealth of experience over the past decade. He is currently playing his club football with Serie A side Lazio, on-loan from Valencia. He spent seven years as a Manchester United player and won four Premier League titles whilst at Old Trafford.
Nani made his professional debut in 2005 with Sporting Lisbon and during his second season, he won the Portuguese Cup. In July 2007, Manchester United flexed their muscles and signed him for £25 million. He was seen as a player who might be able to follow in Cristiano Ronaldo’s footsteps. In reality, that always looked like a long shot. However, Nani would still produce plenty of fantastic moments for the Manchester United faithful. He was capable of playing on both wings and this was something he worked on very hard in his development, differing from Ronaldo, who adapted his game to become a prime centre forward. His dribbling skills and searing pace made him a very useful addition to the ranks at Manchester United.
He scored his first goal for the club in August 2007 to defeat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 with a 30-yard drive from distance. The winger repeated the feat a couple of months later against Middlesbrough and this was a trait that Nani would repeat constantly during his seven seasons at The Theatre of Dreams. Apart from a red card for a head-butt at West Ham United’s Lucas Neill on the penultimate weekend of the season, Nani’s debut campaign at Old Trafford was a qualified success. He won both the Premier League title and the UEFA Champions League, scoring in the shootout over English rivals Chelsea.
He didn’t build on a solid first season in 2008-2009, only featuring 13 times in the Premier League but did add a second title winners’ medal to his CV. That summer, his compatriot Ronaldo completed his long-awaited move to Real Madrid and the pressure was set to increase. Many now expected him to fulfil the role vacated by the World Player of the Year. It would take time for Nani to truly showcase his form on a consistent basis.
He put in several poor performances during the autumn of 2009 and launched an attack on his own manager, Sir Alex Ferguson for a lack of faith in him. Sensing a bit of immaturity and nothing more, Ferguson gave Nani a chance to swallow up those comments. He delivered in January 2010, starring in victories over Hull City and Arsenal. After his man of the match display at The Emirates Stadium, Ferguson praised him, saying: “Maturity is why we’re seeing the best of him now, his last three games have been absolutely first class but today was his best.”
Two months later, he signed a new four-year contract and ended the season with seven goals in all competitions and nine assists in the Premier League. This included a couple of goals late in the campaign against Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland but it wasn’t enough to stop Chelsea taking the Premier League crown away from Manchester United. Nani also missed out on appearing in the League Cup final against Aston Villa after being dismissed in a league match between the sides three weeks earlier.
Nani’s best season in a Manchester United shirt was in 2010-2011, when he finished with figures of nine goals in 33 appearances. It didn’t start well as he missed a late spot-kick at Craven Cottage against Fulham, then saw Brede Hangeland rescue a point for the home side in the dying moments of the match. Six days later, he made amends with a goal and an assist in a man of the match display at home to West Ham United. Other goals that followed in the campaign included a winner at home to Stoke City, the opening goal in the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford and the second goal in a 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur. Nani’s performances saw him voted into the PFA Team of the Year for the first time and earn himself a nomination for the PFA Young Player of the Year, although he lost out on the prize to Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.
If 2010-2011 was his best season, 2011-2012 was a pretty strong season too for the Portuguese. He scored eight times, despite missing three months of the campaign after breaking his metatarsal in the win over Arsenal in January. He had scored in the earlier fixture between the sides when Manchester United destroyed the Gunners 8-2. Two weeks later, he showed off his skill of scoring long-range efforts with another cracking strike in a 3-1 success over Chelsea.
That was the peak of Nani’s time at the club. He made just 23 more league appearances in the next two seasons and although he won the title again in 2013, he was more of a peripheral figure in Ferguson’s swansong season and also, David Moyes’ disastrous one-season tenure at the helm.
In August 2014, he rejoined Sporting Lisbon on a season-long loan deal as part of a transfer that saw Marcos Rojo go to Manchester United. He left the Red Devils permanently a year later and headed for Turkish football and a brief spell with Fenerbahce. Eight goals in 28 appearances tempted Valencia to fork out a £7 million transfer fee in the summer of 2016. After an underwhelming campaign in La Liga, Los Che allowed him to move to Lazio on-loan until the end of the 2017-2018 season.
At international level, Nani made his debut in September 2006. 10 years later, he was a key figure of the Portugal squad that were the surprise winners of the 2016 European Championships, scoring in the semi-final victory over Wales.
Some might feel Nani didn’t quite fulfil his potential he demonstrated at an early age but four title wins with Manchester United is an excellent return.