Nani flashed a huge grin, his eyes twinkling, as the video rolled and images of him performing one of those celebratory somersaults that Sir Alex Ferguson probably wishes he would refrain from were projected before a select gathering at a sponsorship launch this week. The United winger’s expression quickly changed though when he spotted Wayne Rooney sitting across from him. Nani encountered the same emotionless looks on the faces of Darren Fletcher, Park Ji Sung and Ryan Giggs when footage of their exploits was screened.
Such a snapshot was symbolic. 23 year old Nani’s past troubles at United have tended to stem from his happiness to indulge himself, rather than his team-mates. It used to be common to see the winger holding on to the ball for too long before losing possession or shooting when a pass was required as Old Trafford emitted a collective groan.
His decision-making was infuriating, although perhaps not as daft as his public criticism of Ferguson late last year, when he accused the United manager of being foul mouthed and a “very complicated guy”.
The exit door was beckoning, but after a chastening discussion with Ferguson, the penny, as the manager called it, seemed to drop.“This has happened because I am now thinking more about the team and what it means to play for the club” Nani said when asked to explain the transformation. “I was only thinking about playing for myself before, but now I know that I can’t play like that at this club because it is all about winning trophies for the team rather than individual success”
“At United, you have to do everything together. I have learnt a lot about that and that’s why I have changed as a player. This club is good at making players grow up and learn to be a man, to be a player. That happened to me a couple of months ago and now I’m feeling very happy and strong. The fans like beautiful goals and beautiful skills, but now I am doing more for the team and making goals for other players that help us win games”
Anyone who saw Nani tee up Rooney for his second goal in the 4-0 win at home to AC Milan in the second leg of United’s Champions League round of 16 tie last week will agree with that — a deft stroke of the outside of his right boot a contender for pass of the season.
“This is my third year here and, although I believe I am doing well now, I want to do more and more” he said “I never thought about leaving, I want to become a main player here, I know I can live up to the demands”
With Antonio Valencia having impressed on the right wing in his debut season and Nani gracing the left, United have not looked as dangerous from wide areas since Giggs and David Beckham were in their pomp.
“I don’t know about being like those players, but I want to make my own story at this club and be part of the success,” he said “You can’t predict the future, I can’t say that I or Antonio will do what Giggs or Beckham did, but we can work hard every season to win something for this club.”
“I used to think that if you lose two or three games against the same team, just one win would be nice against them” he said “but my mentality has changed, United just want to win – always.”
Have you been won over by Nani’s recent performances?