Can birthday-boy Nani make the grade at United?

Nani, who turns 23 today, needs to toughen up mentally if he wants to make the grade at United.

When Nani broke into the Sporting CP first-team he was seen as the next big thing to come out of Portugal, after Cristiano Ronaldo that is. After his big move to Manchester United he has lived in the shadow of his more glorified countryman.

His start at new surroundings was good. He scored in the pre-season and it didn’t take very long to get on the score sheet in the Premier League, a beautiful 30 yard strike against Tottenham. Thanks to that and his trademark capoeira styled goal celebrations he quickly found a way into the Red Devis’ faithfuls hearts. It was a good season with a 4 goal return from 41 appearances.

He started his sophomore season at United well enough, but it quickly turned sour with the winger, who’s full name is Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha, falling behind in the pecking order to his less fashionable team-mates. He improved on his goal tally with 6 goals, but in total he only managed 31 appearances, 13 in the league with only 7 of them from the starting line-up. Sir Alex Ferguson clearly felt Nani wasn’t quite ready for a more active role and that also started to disappoint the fans, as £17m for a substitute is way too much.

A lot of United fans have turned against him as whenever he gets a chance to showcase his skills, he often disappoints. There were hopes that with Cristiano Ronaldo leaving, Nani would be ready to make a step up and fill the FIFA World Player of the Year 2008 boots, but with extra competition arriving in Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan, these hopes are fading fast, as the new signings have looked more ready to play for United, than Nani ever has.

Expectations might a little too high, but only the best is wanted from the players, who wear the famous red shirt. Nani and Ronaldo aren’t as similar players as people make them out to be and it might be a huge reason why Nani will never make it as a Manchester United regular.

Talent wise the players are quite equal, but what’s sets them apart, some might even say worlds apart, is the mental aspects. As we all remember Cristiano Ronaldo also struggled in his first season at United, but he quickly learned and adapted to play in the Premier League. Yeah, he fell to the ground often and complained to the officials, but he always got up in the end and got on with the game.

Determination is what Nani lacks. He doesn’t have that programmed to his mental system, to go and try again and again even if he does end up getting hurt. Sir Alex Ferguson was a avid complainer of the referees on the subject that Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t getting enough protection from the referees, and with a reason, but the player himself never complained and sucked it up with ease. Nani doesn’t have that. There’s a foolproof way to get Nani out of a game. Just give him a few pops during a football match and you are assured the talented winger won’t cause any trouble for your team.

Nani, who turns 23 today, needs to toughen up mentally if he wants to make the grade at United. Maybe a hint or two about the mental side of the game, instead of dribbling skills, from the more successful countryman would help.

The winger, who only seems to score spectacular goals, has a big learning curve ahead of him. Time will tell if United’s management has the patience to wait, or will he have to look for a new team in a more suited league next summer.

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