They say that madness is defined by doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. Well then we’re in trouble because for a short while there fans believed Sir Alex Ferguson’s assessment of Nani’s new found maturity. Tell it to the winger, whose two-footed lunge at Stilian Petrov last Wednesday night belied his continuing immaturity.
Another moment of overwhelming frustration for fans and manager alike when it comes to the Portuguese international. In the five games since the winger’s return to the side Nani has excelled – as much against expectation, as the opposition.
Effective against Hull City, following a cameo against Burnley at Old Trafford, Nani was then instrumental in United’s victories over Manchester City and Arsenal.
Then came Wednesday’s red card, handed down for a reckless challenge on Aston Villa’s Bulgarian midfielder. In days gone by the former-Sporting winger could have escaped with yellow for a tackle that took far more ball than man. But in the modern game a raised foot almost always provokes the official’s ire.
“It was a sending off. It was a red card. It was a naïve tackle,” said Ferguson of Nani’s second dismissal in professional football, born seemingly of the winger’s wish to perform well but inability to consistently translate it to the pitch.
“He is not a malicious player but he has gone in with his foot raised off the ground and we cannot complain about it. We have no argument at all with the red card.”
Nani will now miss Premier League games against Everton next weekend, together with the home tie against West Ham United and the Carling Cup final repeat with Villa.
The winger’s ban couldn’t come at a worse time for the team, with Ryan Giggs confirmed sidelined with a broken arm for around a month following an inconspicuous challenge with Villa’s Steve Sidwell.
While Nani is available for Tuesday night’s trip to AC Milan, and the return leg in three weeks time, Ferguson will rely on Antonio Valencia and Park Ji-Sung for the domestic matches bridging the European tie.
At least Nani realised the consequences of his actions, which may have robbed United of an extra two points on Wednesday and one of the squad’s form players for the next month.
“After half-time, I spoke with the coach and he was unhappy with me,” Nani said somewhat remorsefully on Thursday.
“That is normal, as tackles like that are not permitted in the Premier League. I accept my responsibility for my actions, though they were not premeditated. I insist that my objective was to play the ball and not the foot of Petrov.
“The incident happened in the middle of the pitch and I don’t think I merited being sent off. I am not a violent footballer. My career is in this sport.
“I wanted to recover the ball and I saw the chance to stop Petrov.
“Now I am sorry, because I have damaged the performance of my team. I am convinced that had we finished with 11 men we would have won.
“We have wasted the opportunity to be first in the table. And it is very bad for me, as I have been developing my best form of the season.”
The question is now, with Nani seemingly more mature with the ball at his feet, can the 24-year-old player learn from this experience and come back even stronger?
For a player so derided by fans and the media alike at times this season Nani has shown strength of character to force his way back into the team.
Now others will benefit from his absence, and Nani must start from square one.