Date:14th February 2011 at 3:00pm
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What a difference a year makes!

On Saturday I realised that The Busby Way had been up and running for a  year and as I looked through the site’s analytics and the site itself, I came across the first ever post: Two steps forward, one step back for Nani.

Following Nani’s red card against Aston Villa and it’s possible implications, I mused that if he found himself out of the team he only had himself to blame.

Thankfully it never came to that.

For the remainder of that season he continued to perform as well as chipping in with important goals and it is something he has carried on into this season.

The whole ‘Nani has turned his career around’ thing has been done to death, by us as well, but I don’t think how integral a player he is to Manchester United is truly being acknowledged . This season along side Nemanja Vidic he has been our best performer and whilst he can still frustrate you to the point that you’ll want to pull your own hair out, you have to accept that he has developed his game to the point that at any moment he can do something to illuminate a game.

He has shown he is well capable of the spectacular as well as being an effective team player and as he becomes more rounded he becomes more and more of a threat. His crossing has improved drastically and whilst he may still pick the wrong option when it comes to putting the ball into the box, when he gets it right he gets it right like he did for Rooney’s goal yesterday.

People will point to the cross deflecting off Zabaleta but the fact he chose to put the cross in then rather than take on Zabaleta shows his decision making has also improved immensely. Formerly that was one of United fan’s main gripes with the winger: he would shoot when he should have crossed, go on a run when he should have found a team mate etc but steadily he has been getting it right. This isn’t to say he has become perfect but considering how he was a year and a half ago the change is remarkable.

Speaking of Zabaleta, I’m pretty sure he will bear witness to Nani’s improvement. He was given a torrid time by Nani and didn’t get anywhere near him, looking at Rooney’s goal the impact of Nani’s performance can be seen in how Zabaleta chose to stand off, possibly in fear of what Nani would have done to him if he had got tight. Nani is now unpredictable, but the good kind where he can run at and beat his man then cross it or he can cut inside and have a go himself. The fact that he’ll do both and leave defenders wondering what will come next makes them think just that extra bit but that’s to their own detriment because if you stop, even for a split second, he will make you pay. You have to be alert and switched on every second and even that doesn’t guarantee success against him.

I have seen  lot of talk about City being the stronger team for large spells in the first half and whilst they did see more of the ball, they hardly did anything with it, when United were in possession of the ball we continually sought to attack Man City’s goal and as Wayne Rooney cut a lonely figure up top it was left to Nani to register our better chances on goal, fizzing shots at Joe Hart. His goal with that excellent first touch and perfectly placed finish was just rewards for all of his trying and as an aside, of his 10 goals this season that was his 8th with his supposed weaker left foot!

Nani’s continual improvement is good news to Manchester United as a team and as a club, he has become an integral part of the team and a threat to any team he comes up against. It wouldn’t be out of line to say he has been the best player in England this season and if you want to crunch numbers this is backed up by the fact that Nani has scored (10), assisted (13) or been significantly involved (9) in 32 United’s goals in his 30 appearances this season*.

*courtesy of Nick Coppack