It’s the knock out stages of the Champions League at Old Trafford, as two of the biggest clubs on the planet collide for the second leg after drawing the first 1-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The packed out stadium is in full roar as thousands of United fans scream their team towards victory, a winger in red gets hold of the ball, attacks the Real Madrid defence, wins a corner and sends the crowd into a bigger frenzy as blood is sensed. This is our time, Sir Alex’s last stand in the biggest competition of them all, the chance to remind Ronaldo of the mistake he made leaving our great club.
The winger who earned the corner runs over to take it, as he does, he waves his arms aloft geeing up the crowd, urging them on. The winger takes the corner…..
….it’s awful, one of the worst ever witnessed, it trickles to a Real Madrid defender who immediately launches a counter attack as the crowd falls silent.
Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to ‘the Nani show.’
Whether it’s skipping past Arsenal defenders with the ball glued to his head, sending a shot into K-Stand then shouting at Wayne Rooney or asking my brother on the checkout at Selfridges if they do tattoos- there’s something wonderfully bonkers about a player who while often infuriating, touched greatness on enough occasions to play his part in several trophy wins.
Nani’s move to Fenerbahce today for a mere £4.25 million has left many fans baffled as despite his failings he’s still a match winning player.
It’s easy to dismiss Nani’s contribution as he departs for a relative pittance to a side thousands of miles away, more comforting to remember the countless misplaced crosses and erratic shots but that would be wrong. The inconsistency and anger inducing moments are only part of the Nani show and for all the bad times, of which there are plenty, there’s something truly magical about a player so skilled yet clumsy, so determined yet indecisive. So seemingly dedicated to making the game that little bit more unforgettable, no matter what.
There can’t be many players in any club’s recent history who’ve gone from players’ player of the season to almost universally derided by the fans in the space of two seasons. It’s not Nani’s fault, for he’s often treated as a mere footballer, when in fact he’s more than that, he’s someone who truly appreciates the fact that football is an entertainment, it’s visceral and emotive and there’s few players on the planet that epitomise all these traits better than he. When Nani steps on to the pitch it isn’t simply to help his team beat the opposition, it’s to provide the fans with drama, talking points, anger, breathlessness, confusion and occasionally happiness.
Nani understands that anyone can beat a man and pass to his team mate, that’s not a skill, it’s an expectation, but it’s also cheating the fans, why give them what they expect when you can dare to give them something far more memorable? Why not test the limits of not just your own ability but also the patience of your team mates, fans and manager? A pass from 40 yards from goal? Not on Nani’s shift, this requires a driving run with your head down, before unleashing a shot that if it comes off would surely be the greatest goal of all time, you deserve credit for daring to dream, not criticism for knocking the corner flag off its stand.
Then there is the true essence of performance, again something that only Nani truly comprehends, it’s not about what you do with the ball, it’s how you react to the game around you. A wonderful goal shouldn’t be celebrated with arms raised aloft or the hugging of team mates, it should be remembered with a somersault or perhaps even a spontaneous explosion of tearful emotion. Just as a foul shouldn’t be treated with a ‘dive’ or falling to the floor. Anyone can con the referee and cheat the fans with such mediocrity. A true great knows that a foul is simply part of a bigger theatrical performance, the catalyst to a ballet that ends in a crescendo of tears, rolling around, more tears, more rolling around, the accosting of the referee, signalling to the bench, some more rolling around, an argument with the referee and then finally the demand that you take the free kick as you’re perfectly fine and more than ready to deliver yet another anger inducing ball straight into the wall that has no business assembling in the presence of your greatness.
You’re not a footballer, you’re Nani. This isn’t a game, it’s a show. Your show, the Nani show. It will be missed….