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The development of Nani

January 21, 2011

When Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha arrived in Manchester in 2007, he found himself on the wrong end of quite a few expletives from the Old Trafford faithful. Wasteful on the ball and too much of an individual of our liking, Nani constantly had me and my fellow supporters flapping our hands in dismay, cursing his name and questioning his place in the team. At times I had myself wondering just exactly what his purpose was, only for one of his ridiculous 40 yard attempt to sail into the top corner.

Immediately, everything bad I had said about him previously was forgotten as though it never happened; only for the process to repeat itself.

Recently Nani has started to turn around the opinion that he is held of him by improving his much-criticised final ball. Less and less, he seems to waste the ball. More and more, he is growing into a much-needed winner for the Red Devils.

Trying too hard

Arriving at Old Trafford, Nani found himself quite a way down the pecking order. Having been the shining star in the Sporting Lisbon team, the Portuguese teenager slipped in behind his more experienced team-mates Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez in Sir Alex Ferguson’s plans. Not exactly the sort of trio that he could immediately leap in front of but every time he made an appearance, he simply suffered from trying too hard.

When given a chance to impress he did everything in his power to play his way into the team and that meant he simply tried too much. Rather than picking a simple pass and waiting for an opportunity to arise, he ran himself into dead ends or flashed shot high and wide into the stands.

In his first full match for Manchester United against Middlesbrough, Nani tried to be everywhere. Clearly desperate to jump ahead of his attacking rivals in Sir Alex’s eyes with a sparkling performance, he tried to be unpredictable and instead, ended up being infuriating.

More discipline

In recent months, Nani has cut the wandering nature from his game. Rather than popping up all over the pitch in attempts to create the next day’s headlines, the winger has started to stick to the same areas and prosper. His more disciplined approach has also seen him feature more in games. With his erratic positioning Nani made it harder for his team-mates to use him as an attacking outlet.

By hugging the touch-line, the nippy winger is now finding himself more and more in one-on-one situations with the full-back. Rather than being surrounded by a horde of defenders in the centre of the park, he has room to beat his marker and either deliver a telling ball or cut instead onto his rather decent left foot.

In his first game of 2011 and having returned from injury, Nani remained committed to the right flank. Instead of falling into his previous bad habits and trying to pick up the ball everywhere, the 24 year-old was always available for his team-mates to reach with a pass. He linked up neatly with Rafael da Silva and Darron Gibson on the right flank, provided the cross for Jaiver Hernandez’s opener and then scored the eventual winner by cutting inside onto his left foot.

Better work-rate

Comparing the same two games, there is also an obvious improvement in Nani’s work-rate for the team over the last four seasons.

Against Middlesbrough he attempted just eight tackles over the entirety of the game and six of those challenges were in the opposition half. Rather than tracking back to help his defence, the Portuguese star simply made tackles of convenience.

In the game against Stoke, he appears to have slotted in on the right hand side of the midfield and put his shift in. Just as many of Nani’s attempted tackles were made in his own half showing that as he started to increase his work rate over the years; even if it isn’t quite brilliant yet.

He’s of course far from being in the work horse leagues of Darren Fletcher for getting around the pitch but at least he is lending hand. Back in 2007, he could constantly be seen tying his shoelaces when he should have been helping out so at least he’s doing something.

He is of course, far from the finished article but the positive signs are there. Nani is growing into a more complete player and much more of a team player.

The chalkboards were created using the Guardian website.

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