If you weren’t into football, you could be forgiven for thinking that Nani was a big deal. After all, legions of Fenerbahce fans awaited his arrival at the airport. They had lit flares and were making a joyous racket for their new signing. Footage showed a car, presumably transporting Nani, being pawed as the driver tried to navigate his way through a scene from a zombie apocalypse movie. Chaos, but routine chaos.
Darius Vassell got a similar welcome when he showed up at Ankaragucu in 2009. Supporters chanted his name and buried him in scarves, all the while looking deliriously happy to sign a forward who scored one goal the previous season. I’ve not yet been to Turkey but it’s my assumption that anyone who shows up on a Google search gets the same treatment.
It seems like Nani winding up in the Super Lig was inevitable, it being a destination for has-beens and never-weres. It’s easy to tell where incoming Antalyaspor signings Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o lie on that spectrum. As it is with Galatasaray maestro Wesley Sneijder. Nani blurs the lines.
He won almost every club trophy available to him at United. Lifting the Premier League trophy on four separate occasions and even scoring a penalty in the shoot-out victory over Chelsea in the Champions League final. But his association with United will always be tainted by his unfulfilled potential.
When he was bought by the club in the summer of 2007, club officials were on a determined recruitment drive after winning the title for the first time in four years. As well as bringing in established stars like Carlos Tevez and Owen Hargreaves, assistant boss Carlos Queiroz was sent around the continent to hoover up emerging stars.
Utilizing his passport, Queiroz unwittingly painted a dystopian future when he brought Portuguese winger Nani from Sporting Lisbon and Anderson, a Brazilian prodigy who won the Golden Ball at the U17 World Cup in 2005, from Porto.
Cristiano Ronaldo was only starting to blow up around this time, having broken the 20 goal barrier for the first time the previous season. The Nani deal was only viewed through this prism by British media and one can imagine scouts watched him and thought his game bared an uncanny resemblance to Ronaldo’s.
At this point, United weren’t thinking of a successor for their star man. They couldn’t have known that Real Madrid would go full stalker over the next two seasons, becoming a seething, psychotic mess that insisted it was trying to liberate the enslaved player while using Sepp Blatter as its mouthpiece. No, they envisioned Nani in tandem with Ronaldo. While the established star would cut in and attack from the right, Nani would do so from the left, eventually succeeding Ryan Giggs.
Interestingly, before Queiroz came back from Portugal with the pair, United missed out on another rising star a little closer to home. Spurs had pipped them to the signature of one Gareth Bale for £10 million, around half the price of Nani. He would go on to be sold for a world record fee. Nani was left in a box outside Old Trafford marked ‘£4.25 million or best offer’.
It’s hard to get past that bizarrely pitiful fee. United have been pretty much giving away players since Louis van Gaal became manager. They took considerable losses on Shinji Kagawa and Wilfried Zaha, selling both back to the clubs they bought the players from.
Not only is the 28-year-old Nani the sixth most capped Portugal player of all time, he also had three years left on his United contract. Another comical legacy that David Moyes left behind at Old Trafford. He gave Nani a new five-year contract a month into his reign for no apparent reason. Last season’s career-high 12 goals during his Lisbon loan spell makes his fee all the more baffling.
Sir Alex Ferguson really took to Nani. Maybe it was an ego thing, the Scot being determined to prove his expertise in the transfer market. There was a running joke in my house that the winger was blackmailing Ferguson over a variety of bizarre acts. But as cold, calculated and ruthless as Ferguson could be, I believe that he felt almost protective of Nani. He seemed to have paternal feelings towards the player, whose own father abandoned him as a child.
Clearly van Gaal had no time for the player. He was capable of wonderful moments but his lack of defensive discipline and tactical intelligence is why the Dutchman decided to Jazzy Jeff him out of Manchester. These failings were highlighted by the Ronaldo goal he infamously sabotaged against Spain in 2010.
Having lived with Ronaldo in his early United days, one can’t help but imagine a sitcom with the dynamic of Drake and Josh or Kenan and Kel. Especially after Ronaldo curses his mate’s episodic cock-ups.
Nani has plenty of natural ability, but his greatest talent might be a knack for frustrating fans. He possesses good speed but has an infuriating habit of slowing down attacks until he is literally standing opposite his opponent, shaking his leg about in a bid to unbalance his marker. He possesses a wicked snapshot and this presumably influenced how many wayward shots he would blast into the stand instead of passing.
Quite literally a tongue-in-cheek footballer, Fenerbahce supporters can expect one or two odd stories to emerge about a player the club are reportedly making the best paid in Turkey. Like the one about him buying a life-size statue of himself. Cue jokes about Nani challenging the common belief that you couldn’t polish a turd. “It stops you in your tracks,” said one visitor to the house. “He’s placed it on a stand in the middle of his living room. It’s massive, you can’t miss it. And it’s weird when he stands next to it because it’s so life-like.”
There were times when Nani played like he was worthy of a statue. Maybe if was at a club like Fulham he would have gotten one. His resemblance to Thriller era Michael Jackson would have helped his case. He certainly had his moments in a red shirt.
He had two good, consistent seasons at United. His 2010-2011 form got him a PFA Young Player of the Year nomination as well as a spot on the PFA Team of the Year. He also won the Players’ Player of the year at the annual United gala.
United fans will remember his Community Shield performance against Manchester City in 2011. His showboating against Arsenal in that FA Cup humiliation. A stunning chip in first his pre-season tour. An amazing outside-of-the-boot assist for Rooney versus Milan in 2010. The many crackers. His trademark somersault celebration.
But it will all be remembered with a nagging knowledge that he could have achieved so much more. Here’s hoping he can become the player Ferguson and Queiroz always fancifully dreamed he could be at Fenerbahce.
This article was written by @BabboPieta. If you agree with his views or want to tell him that he was wrong and not flesh out valid points, by all means write to him on Twitter.