The Busby Babe continues with the sixteenth installment of our 2012-13 Manchester United player reviews. Next up is winger Nani.
I'm going to be dividing each of the player reviews into three categories: 'what was expected' will be a brief and general explanation of what the expectations were for the player prior to the season's start, 'what we got' will typically be the section with the most depth as this will be the heart of the review, and 'what's next?' will be an examination of the player's future at United.
What was expected
Just because Nani is Portuguese and a 'flair' player that plies his trade on the wing, that doesn't mean it was ever fair to compare him to one of football's all-time greats in Cristiano Ronaldo. It was always going to be impossible for him to live up to that lazy comparison. Nonetheless, the Cape Verde born attacker began to come into his own the past two seasons and during 2010-11, he was named into the PFA Team of the Year while he was also honored as Manchester United's Players' Player of the Year. The only criticisms of the Portugal international in the past two seasons is that his form faded for each run-in and one consequence for him was not being named into the starting XI for the 2011 UEFA Champions League final. The expectation for this season was that Nani could continue being one of the Premier League's best attackers, however, there was also a hope was that he'd progress and become a more consistent performer.
What we got
What we got was the most disappointing of Nani's six seasons at Old Trafford. In addition, he only made 21 total appearances due to injury issues and poor form. In the five previous campaigns, he had never made less than 30 appearances.
* GS: games started (substitute appearances),G = goals scored, A = assists, Avg P = average passes per game, Pass % = passing accuracy percentage, KP = chances created per game, C = accurate crosses per game, C% = accurate cross percentage, DRB = successful dribbles per game, FW = fouls won per game, TKL = tackles per game, INT = interceptions per game
To be honest, there isn't much to review from Nani's season: he was either in mediocre to poor form for (nearly) the entire season and he often struggled with knocks.
The Portuguese winger did flash his tremendous talent during a couple of matches in February -- most notably when he scored and created a goal in the 2-1 FA Cup defeat of Reading -- and he was rewarded with a start against Real Madrid for the second-leg of United's two-legged UEFA Champions League knock-out tie. At the Theatre of Dreams that night, from the left-wing, he was a menace for Real right-back Alvaro Arbeola, particularly on counterattacks. United eventually -- and deservedly -- opened the scoring early in the second-half and took the lead in the two-legged tie when a Nani cross resulted in a Sergio Ramos own-goal. Although the 26-year-old wasn't rewarded with the goal, he deserved credit for creating it. Soon after that goal, though, Nani was undeservedly sent off and United eventuallly lost the tie. It was highly unfortunate for both the club and player. After his brief patch of solid form, 'good-Nani' wasn't seen again for the remainder of the season.
In the first-half of the season, Sir Alex Ferguson persisted with Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young on the wings, partially because of Nani's inconsistent form. However, by season's end, the gaffer hardly used any 'natural' wingers and instead, he would use either a diamond midfield or central players -- forwards and central-midfielders -- in the wide areas. This was because Nani and his fellow 'natural' wingers simply weren't getting the job done. At the beginning of the season, it would have been hard to fathom Nani -- and his fellow wingers -- being this poor. By any logical measure, his season was a disaster.
Nani's talent is undeniable: on his day, he's brilliant on either wing by scoring or creating goals with either foot and his impromptu (and mercurial) genius. However, what he can offer United in the future is debatable. At the moment, the transfer whispers suggest that he will be departing Old Trafford sometime soon. The club will certainly make a decision on his United future this summer because he only has a year remaining on his current contract -- this essentially means he needs to sign a new contract (if one is still in the offering) or he'll be sold before he can walk for free next summer. Nani never quite lived up to expectations, but he did mature into a very good player -- just not a consistent enough of one.