I had to type that headline above VERY CAREFULLY…every letter was taped out on my keyboard in super slow mo. Exactly a year ago I wrote an article called The Peculiar Case Of The Flying Portuguese Winger. It was a speculative piece, wondering if our Mr Nani actually had big enough ‘boy marbles’ to fill the gargantuan boots left by his bezzie pal Ronaldo.
Twelve months on and im pleasantly surprised to have been impressed with the lads contribution, especially after Christmas last year. His performance at the Emirates lit the touch paper for a boost in confidence which saw us gasp at some of his skill…cos it finally looked like he had a final ball in his game. Now we’ve always known that Nani has had skill. He can do all the stepovers, lollipops, and flicks until the cows come home to their green fields of Cheshire. But like Berbatov, Nani would always be the one that FRUSTRATED THE LIVING HELL OUT OF YOU. There’s nothing worse than seeing a player that you know has the X Factor, only for them to have you covering your eyes at almost every turn when they touch the ball. The boy was the living embodiment of this.
But here we are, in 2010…and for me Nani is the one player I will have my eyes on the most. The reason for that is that if he starts to progress from the embers of brilliance we saw last season, I think United may well have a very very special talent. Now as fickle football fans go, I would have binned Nani last summer. He had gone backwards. It looked like he was a light year behind Anderson, who was purchased on the same shopping trip to Portugal by David Gill, and to be honest, he just didnt look like a United player. But now these two talents have swapped places. After poor form and injury, Anderson is the one staring firmly at the Old Trafford scrapheap, whereas Naniboy is flavour of the month, and then some. It is scary to laud the player up, but if Manchester United is to have a successful season next year, then Nani is gonna have to have a stormer. I bite my lip when I whisper to others that he will be the star of our show this coming season. It genuinely makes my stomach turn because I dont wanna set him up for a fall. But in a world where it appears that United cant splash the cash anymore, and with City and Madrid spending money like it is going out of fashion, we have to look closer to home for our next heroes
Talking of heroes, I think Wayne Rooney is gonna get kicked off the park this year. In many ways last season was his personal breakthrough. Despite being at our club for many years, last year was the litmus test of whether he could be the central striker…and he passed with flying colours. So for Roo, I think we will see that ‘second season effect’ The one that most players and teams suffer from. When an individual or team does something excellent over the period of a whole season, the opposition evaluates and reflects on how to stop it more effectively the following year. So expect to see Premier League sides trying to get closer to Rooney this year. They will kick him and try and make him play his football outside of the box, as he did so unconvincingly at this World Cup. So because of this it is so important that certain individuals ‘step up’ and takes some pressure of our Blue Scouser. Nani is one of those players. Id like to see him get 15 goals and 20 assists this season…and thats a minimum. It is a tall order as far as a target goes, but one which I think he can achieve. He only showed the world glimpses of what may be to come last year, so there will be no ‘second season’ effect for him. Teams still wont look at him with the same angry eyes that they will show Roo, so he must take advantage of that.
Other players that we need to see ‘do it’ this year are the aforementioned Berbatov, who is dining in the last chance saloon. Michael Carrick, who needs to prove himself all over again to The Faithful, and the youngsters of Rafael, Gibson and Macheda. All three need to show that 2010/11 will be their breakthrough season, and they are not going to go the way that so many promising kids go after their development stifles. So my fingers and toes are crossed for the boy wonder that is Nani. I could never have predicted that he would be such an important part of the jigsaw only a matter of months ago. But the truth is he is.
Lets hope there is a vast amount of backflips coming to a ground near you soon!
Rob B @badgerwolf on twitter