Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha’s recent performances for Manchester United have been just as frustrating as his first appearances for the club nearly two and a half season’s ago. It begs the question, with little improvement, is the Portuguese winger simply not good enough to play for United or just a bit simple?
The pointless stepover, a wasted pass, or an incomprehensible shot with better placed teammate ignored; all trademarks of which Nani cannot be proud. Yet for all Nani’s infuriating habits the Portuguese winger is undoubtedly talented. The former Sporting protégé’s début goal – a scorching 30-yarder against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford – symptomatic of the bipolar nature of the player’s gifts.
Indeed, many supporters – correctly – point to Cristiano Ronaldo’s inconsistency in the early years with United. The Real Madrid player did not reach a double figure goal tally until his third season at Old Trafford. At a similar stage of his Old Trafford career, Nani could yet match his more illustrious predecessor. Although, in his fourth complete season as a professional Ronaldo struck 26 times in total.
The goalscoring timeline is not wholly instructive of course. Perhaps a more relevant comparison is with the technical progress the two players made over the same period. Not only has Nani failed to improve but in his second season the 22-year-old was a shadow of the player who scored that stunning goal against Spurs. That the winger was largely relegated to the Carling Cup side, playing alongside the reserves, was a clear indicator of Nani’s fall down the Old Trafford player hierarchy last season.
This campaign Nani has delivered just one stand-out performance – against CSKA Moscow in the Russian capital a fortnight ago. It was the exception to a disappointing rule that has seen the winger misfire if trusted at all.
Statistics aside, Nani’s failure to mature is, surely, immensely frustrating for a manager who prides himself on youth development. While Nani is just over a year younger than the departed Cristiano Ronaldo, he is miles away from the Real Madrid player’s quality.
Perhaps even more enlightening is the rapid progress of Antonio Valencia at Old Trafford who, after an uncertain start, is looking every bit a Manchester United player.
Why then cannot the greatest manger United has possessed and the world-class infrastructure at his disposal not coach the worst of Nani’s excesses out of the Cape Verde-born player’s game? After all, the United coaching staff eliminated Ronaldo’s unnecessary showmanship; and experience improved the player’s decision-making and team work.
Yet such is the paucity of Nani’s credible performances this campaign that it is tempting to write-off his season already and hope that the player returns from the World Cup – should Portugal make it past Bosnia in the play-offs – significantly more mature.
But, five seasons into a professional career, Nani may have already peaked as a player. On Tuesday night he delivered yet another infuriating performance. The only surprise was that the wide-man made it past half-time before being hauled off.
This weekend Nani will surely be left on the bench once again, the peerless Ryan Giggs and aforementioned Valencia starting on the wings.
Then in January the highly-rated right-side player Adem Ljajić arrives from Partizan Belgrade.
While Nani’s place on the left is not directly affected by Ljajić’s arrival, speculation that United is preparing a bid for Benfica’s outstanding Angel di Maria or Valencia’s world-class left-sided forward David Silva will touch a little too close to home for the Portuguese.
Somehow it seems doubtful that Nani will get the message.