Some strange quotes appeared in this Friday’s Guardian (courtesy of Don Balón – a Spanish sports magazine) from Manchester United winger Nani.
The Portuguese international claimed that despite his form being better than at any other time in his career, he feels unable to express himself fully whilst playing for United.
“I try to enjoy playing now, but it is not always possible because I have a responsibility to the team… But something of the street remains in me. It is not easy to show at United because Sir Alex does not allow very much freedom and I cannot do the tricks and things I did with my friends.”
The friends he refers to are those who Nani grew up with playing street-football in Lisbon, honing the skills he uses to this very day. First off, I’d like to note that whilst it’s easy to see how these quotes could be twisted to cast Nani, or his role at United in a poor light, I don’t see anything wrong with the comments Nani made, or the way Sir Alex has handled Nani. The 24-year-old has admitted that he’s got a responsibility to the team to make sure he remains professional, despite an urge to sometimes turn on what team-mate Rio Ferdinand would refer to as ‘silks’.
The fact that he doesn’t always enjoy playing is something of a moot point. He’s doing what he’s paid to do and this season he has come on leaps and bounds. Whether he is fully happy or not, he is committed and that’s the most fans can ask for.
Clearly Nani has become a better player under Sir Alex Ferguson’s tutorage (and no doubt an emphasis on reigning in the ‘street’ side of his game has had a role to play). Despite this, I hope that we don’t see Nani forgo this side of his game entirely. On his day Nani is an absolutely fantastic player to watch and part of what makes him such a magnetic presence is his willingness to try something audacious – to do things that other players don’t have the guts or the ability to do.
The trouble, I suppose, is that the tricks don’t always come off. On the other-hand, there have been a number of times where they have and Nani’s intelligence and ability have seen Manchester United unlock a team (indeed, Nani has the highest number of assists in the Premier League this season). Would you really want to see Cristiano Ronaldo reigned in? Would it not have been bizarre were Zinedine Zidane told to cut out the skills at his peak of his game? Whilst Nani does have a responsibility to his team to ensure that he helps them get the results they need, I for one hope that this doesn’t come at the expense of too much of his ‘freedom’.
Let’s not forget either that it’s players like Ronaldo, Zidane, Ronaldinho and, yes, Nani that help market clubs around the world. It’s not the Darren Fletchers or the Michael Carricks that will draw people in Asian markets to support Manchester United. It’s feats of individual brilliance from players with the stones to pull them off that will draw in new fans and more capital.
With that in mind, let’s hope that Nani and Manchester United can find a happy medium.