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Why selling Nani would be a huge mistake

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On the back of an admittedly dreadful performance from the Portuguese winger against Everton, Nani was subsequently omitted from the matchday squad for the visit of Fulham on Saturday.

Following his poor performance and amid rumours that United are looking to sell the mercurial winger, a lot of United fans have jumped on the Nani-bashing bandwagon. I was unfortunate enough to encounter one of them in a Twitter exchange the other evening. Having stated my belief that it would be a huge mistake for United to sell Nani and that, other than Ronaldo and Messi, I couldn’t think of a better winger than the Portuguese wideman, someone tweeted to tell me that Nani “can’t cross and doesn’t commit his men.”

I then asked him to name better wingers than Nani to which he replied by reeling off a long list of inferior wingers to Nani including, among others, Mauricio Isla – who plays right-back more than he does right-wing – and Arsenal’s recent acquisition, Lukas Podolski, who again can’t really be classed as a winger having played as a striker for large parts of his career. Once again I replied telling him that, in my opinion, none of the players he mentioned are better than Nani to which he scoffed that “the irony is that you don’t even need to look outside of Man Utd for a much better winger,  a much, much better winger.”

Here, he was alluding to Antonio Valencia, United’s Ecuadorian winger and herein lies the crux of my argument. One of the key lines of the Nani-bashers, and there are many of them, is that Nani is nowhere near as consistent as Valencia, an argument that is spouted as though it’s an unarguable fact.

As Vladimir Lenin once said: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth” and this seems particularly pertinent in this case. Many United fans regard the ‘truth’ to be that Valencia is a much more consistent player than Nani yet, having examined the stats, they couldn’t be more wrong.

Player Season Apps Goals Assists Goals per game ratio Assists per game ratio Combined number of goals and assists
Nani
2009/10
34
7
9
1 : 4.9
1 : 3.8
16
2010/11
49
10
14
1 : 4.9
1 : 3.5
24
2011/12
40
10
14
1 : 4
1 : 3.3
24
Total
123
27
37
1 : 4.6
1 : 3.5
64
Valencia
2009/10
49
7
11
1 : 7
1 : 4.5
18
2010/11
20
3
3
1 : 6.7
1 : 6.7
6
2011/12
38
6
15
1 : 6.3
1 : 2.5
21
Total
107
16
29
1 : 6.7
1 : 3.7
45

*Above stats taken from ESPN Soccernet

So, some conclusions based on the above:

  • Nani has a better goals to games ratio than Valencia in each of the last three seasons
  • The Portuguese winger has a better assists to games ratio in two of the last three seasons
  • Combining goals and assists over the last three seasons, Nani has both a better goals to games ratio and a better assists to games ratio than Valencia
  • In 2009/10, United scored 118 goals in all competitions: Nani was directly involved (scored or assisted) in 16 (14%) whilst Valencia was directly involved in 18 (15%). It’s worth noting that Valencia made 15 more appearances than Nani that season
  • In 2010/11, United scored 111 goals in all competitions: Nani was directly involved in 24 (22%) of the goals whilst Valencia was directly involved in 6 (5%). This time, it’s worth noting that Nani made 29 more appearances than the Ecuadorian that season
  • In 2011/12, United scored 119 goals in all competitions: Nani was directly involved in 24 (20%) of the goals whilst Valencia was directly involved in 21 (18%). Nani made 2 more appearances than Valencia last season
  • Over the last 3 seasons, Utd have scored 348 goals in all competitions: Nani has been directly involved in 64 (18%) of the goals whilst Valencia has been directly involved in 45 (13%) of the goals. Nani has made 19 more appearances during this period

We can deduce from this analysis that Nani’s stats compare favourably to Valencia’s over the last 3 seasons yet as I’ve already mentioned how many times will you hear a Nani-basher remark something along the lines of ‘on his day, he’s excellent but if only Nani was as consistent as Valencia’?

The main priority of wingers is to create and score goals. That being said, surely consistency should be measured on how often they create or score goals. And the stats prove that over the last 3 seasons, Nani has both scored and assisted goals on a more regular basis than Valencia. Quite simply, Nani has proved more valuable to the United team as a creative outlet than Valencia. Whereas Valencia is restricted to playing on the right-wing, Nani’s ability with both feet means he is more versatile; able to play on the right-wing – his preferred position – or on the left-wing.

Nani is one of the three players – Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie being the other two – within the United squad that is truly capable of coming up with a moment of magic that can decide a game. I’m thinking of his beautiful dinked finish over an onrushing Heurelho Gomes against Spurs in the 3-1 home-win in 2009/10 or the way he plucked Ryan Giggs’s through ball out of the air with his right foot before accelerating away from Pablo Zabaleta and finishing past Joe Hart with his left in the 2010/11 Old Trafford derby. Moments of sheer quality that leave supporters astounded and are illustrative of the talent Nani has.

This is not a direct criticism of Valencia but I struggle to think of times – his winner at Blackburn last season aside – when he has produced moments of as breathtaking quality as the ones mentioned above. The Ecuadorian is the traditional touchline-hugging winger of yesteryear but is generally one-dimensional, some may say predictable. Every time he gets the ball, you can be pretty much assured that he will seek to knock the ball down the line and swing in a cross. Admittedly, he is very good at what he does, there’s no doubt about it. But against a strong quick full-back, he can be shut down as was the case in the 2011 Champions League Final when Barcelona’s Eric Abidal effectively stymied the Ecuadorean or even in last year’s home game against QPR when Valencia was kept quiet by Taye Taiwo.

So in conclusion, it would be a huge mistake to sell Nani for a number of reasons. Firstly, Nani’s sale would leave United pretty short in terms of options out wide with only two orthodox wingers – Valencia and Ashley Young – in the United squad. The loss of Nani would also probably lead to Sir Alex Ferguson often playing one of Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney or Robin Van Persie out wide; a role in which all three are wasted and generally ineffective. In Welbeck’s case particularly, playing him on the wing is more likely to hinder his development than help it.

And secondly, yes, Nani can be infuriating – perhaps more than most at times but the general nature of wing-play means that most wingers are frustrating – but he is still an extremely effective weapon in United’s attacking arsenal. Of the orthodox wingers playing in the top four leagues in the world – Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga – only Arjen Robben and Angel Di Maria match his stats over the past three seasons. And as the stats prove, he has both a better goals to games ratio and a better assists to games ratio than Valencia over the last three seasons; something worth bearing in mind the next time you hear someone say that Valencia is a much more consistent performer than the Portuguese international. To me, the next three days could be imperative in determining whether United are able to reclaim the Premier League title or end up finishing runners-up again; quite simply, the loss of Nani would be a huge blow to United’s title aspirations.

Do you agree/disagree with my views? Let me know by commenting below!

About Sam McHale

Utd ST holder in the Stretford End. Lucky enough to be in Moscow '08, I eat, sleep and breathe football. Hoping - results permitting - to start Manchester Uni this September. You can follow me on Twitter: @Sam10McHale

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10 Responses to Why selling Nani would be a huge mistake

  1. Glenn says:

    A very good analysis. Yes, it is sometimes frustrating to watch Nani play at times because of his inconsistency.

    However, when he is good, he is really bloody damn good. A talented player who is composed in front of goal. A match winner at times too. Hence. we should keep him. Disgusted with the fans who want him off after a series of bad performances. Every player has their ups and downs. Period.

  2. David says:

    Thank you for such a great article. I am glad you were able to put numbers and words to what I see and feel as a manchester united fan. I agree 100% with you. Sometimes I wonder whether Nani’s inconsistency is also a result of SAF’s inconsistency in playing him in his best position, the right wing. Nani’s best work at United has been when Valencia has been injured, but despite his good work, has never been rewarded with the right wing position being 100% his. He is constantly switched to left wing, or benched – which is never good for his confidence. Despite not receiving the treatment he deserves, his numbers are better than Valencia’s.

  3. Karl Moon says:

    A very enjoyable read and one I’m very happy I contributed towards (as it is in fact, myself which Sam references in the opening paragraphs.)

    In regards to Isla, he was incredibly consistent as a winger in his early career, but, as with many South Americans, he was willing to do his job defensively and with these together moved him towards being a very effective wing-back. As for Podolski, whilst his club career may have been filled with ups and downs, he has often played as a forward, although at Bayern Munich was often moved out wide left. The relevance of the winger statement is due to his consistently imperious form on the left-wing for Germany where he is always able to find space, often control the left-side of the pitch and often come up with goals.

    To make something very clear, this wasn’t a reaction to the Everton game, I understand for many it was, my issues with Nani are far more long standing.

    I admire Nani’s ability, in terms of potential he does (or did) have it all to be one of the very best, not just wingers, but players in the game, perhaps at a club like Real Madrid where the emphasis of ‘work’ on the wingers isn’t seen so much as a requirement, but instead to put the balls and be used as an outlet when necessary, of which Di Maria is a perfect example, because in terms of what he offers a team defensively, it’s even less than Nani. As an outside fan looking in at a team in Italy or Spain, I would think Nani a world beater in the same way we have so many other players over the years only to see that in a more competitive game or league they look a shadow of their former selves.

    The issue with Man Utd is that we’ve always had a system playing wide-men, and bar a baffling few seasons where we played only one winger (inevitably a RW) and 3 CM’s (as we did against Everton this season) causing us to lose balance, and those wingers have often had an emphasis on work. And I don’t mean work going forward, I mean actual graft. Giggs did it for years, Beckham, Kanchelskis, even those drafted in like Fortune and Blomqvist over the years, and bar Ronaldo (who was seemingly exempt, although often with good reason – though his work defensively from corners was often never mentioned) would be up and down, never shying for a hard shift of 90 minutes.

    Nani, going forward is always capable of doing something, although the real moments of inspiration, the real memorable moments aside from the ones mentioned, such as the ‘wonder strikes’ against Middlesbrough and Spurs are now distant memories. And whilst a player shouldn’t be condemned because he hasn’t scored a 30 yard strike in a while (don’t get me confused for someone who is), what is disappointing is that the actual quality of his shooting isn’t great. Free kicks? Forget about it. If he’s lucky he’ll hit the wall, more often than not, they’re over the bar by some considerably yardage. From open play, again, often high, wide and really not very handsome. In the box he flitters between being the most composed man in the ground (Man City finish, the knock passed Gomez amongst the confusion) so someone who looks like the weight of the world is on his shoulders.

    Nani defensively is where it gets most fans. Nani has a phenomenal physique, he can be strong, which we see a lot more now than we did in the past where he would go over too easily, but you’ll seldom see him doing any defensive work. If it’s a 50/50, forget about it. I’m not a huge fan of Young, the epitome of inconsistency who managed to get away with it owing to being the most talented squad player at both Watford and Aston Villa, but many times last season (particularly in the first 3rd of the season before he burnt out) he was helping cover with Evra (which we really needed) and Valencia, well, we see every week that his willingness to work as a winger is unmatched, even after a severe break. I don’t expect Nani to be slamming into tackles, but it would be nice to see him fall back into RB if Rafael goes on the overlap and do it with a form of authority where you see a real effort to stop a man getting by, this is something Valencia does and the Valencia and Rafael overlap works incredibly well, the Nani and Rafael overlap gets a little lost.

    Bar none though, Nani’s biggest problem and easily his most infuriating actually isn’t an inability, but an unwillingness to shift the ball quickly. To move with the team and play the ball as his team mates work for space. In the same way that Fletcher was often condemned for taking five-touches before shifting a simple pass, Nani can often be seen holding on too long, as if intimidating the defender, but in actuality it just lets the opposition get men behind the ball, slow us down and ultimately drop the ball back and try and break down 11 men again leaving those players up with him now marked and out of the move. When Nani isn’t doing this he is the best offensive winger bar Ronaldo, around. As I said on Twitter, I like Nani, personally he seems like a really nice guy and hands down one of the ones at Manchester United I’d like to actually hang around with and when he gets his game together and doesn’t try and focus on “The Nani show”, he’s a beast.

    But he does still have an inconsistencies with his game, his crossing, yes, he does set up goals with crosses, although, more often than not, passes, but we’ve seen game after game (although mainly in the period of time where we only played with one winger) where he’d have complete shut-outs. He had this again against Everton. I remember a game against Sunderland a couple of seasons ago where I believe he was 0 out of 14 for crosses. That’s not just bad, that’s woeful. His corners are bad, very bad, but I’m not going to blame just him for this as many do because Giggs is even worse. Do we intentionally go for the near post? The amount of times those two fail to clear the first man is, in all honesty, completely infuriating, especially when we’ve seen Carrick put some lovely balls in (although a little floated for my liking) and Anderson put some real beauties right under the crossbar (if he could shoot like he takes corners I’d be happy), thankfully it looks like RVP will be taking all the corners (at least from the right), so maybe our team will actually at least start trying to attack offensively from corners… But I digress, this gets me angry and I’ve already strayed from the original subject. Man Utd have never been the strongest offensively from corners, we’ve never really tried.

    These are simply views that were too difficult to put forth through 140 characters on Twitter.

    I’ve already replied on Twitter regarding this article to you, but I’ll make the same response here for any other readers.

    Regarding the comparison to Valencia, it’s perhaps a little unfair, in that same period of time we’ve had an adapting period as he’s joined the team and had to get used to the United way. He’s also recovered from a very badly broken ankle which didn’t just have physical repercussions, but mental ones (which sadly included a truly horrible CL final performance) and he’s also been deployed as a right-back.

    That said, it was an awesome penalty in Moscow.

  4. Sam McHale says:

    Hi Karl, thanks for coming on to share your full thoughts. You have taken a rather different tone in replying to this than you did the other evening when you, and many of your followers you retweeted, suggested that Nani is rubbish and that I was deluded – your word, not mine – for claiming he was one of the best wingers of the world – maybe that’s because the stats don’t back your argument up? Obviously we’re not going to agree on this subject but I’d like to take issue, if I may, with a few of your points above:

    Firstly, I take issue with you saying that Nani’s real memorable moments are ‘distant memories.’ Only last season, he scored a beautiful goal in the Community Shield, a screamer against Chelsea and delightful chipped finishes against both Arsenal and Everton. So not exactly distant!

    Secondly, I kind of resent you making assertions over Nani’s defensive work – or supposed lack of it – when you don’t have the stats to back it up. I would refer you to this article: http://www.stretford-end.com/2011/10/man-united-premier-league-season-201011-review-by-numbers/ , which reveals that in the 2010/11 season, Nani attempted the most tackles in the entire Utd squad and was the only player to win more than 50 tackles. On average, he attempted a tackle every 9.6 minutes. So I’d like to hear your thoughts on that because obviously, a lot of the defensive work that Nani does is missed by you.

    Thirdly, I still don’t accept that any larger proportion of Nani’s assists are passes than Valencia and to be perfectly honest, I don’t see why it matters whether an assist is by a cross or a pass. Just off the top of my head, I can think of four goals that Nani assisted with crosses last season: Berbatov’s goal v Benfica (H), Young’s goal v Basle (H), Scholes’s goal v Norwich (A) and Rooney’s goal v Everton (H), and I’m sure there are more! I accept Nani’s corners are poor but then again, Valencia doesn’t take them either! And also, Valencia often does the same thing in terms of holding on to the ball and slowing the build up down.

    I also feel that attributing Valencia’s poor Champions League Final appearance to mental repercussions from his terrible injury is quite honestly rubbish. He had appeared in and played very well in a number of games before then including the semi-final v Schalke so I suspect that it was more a case of it being nerves or simply the fact that Abidal could negate his key qualities that were to blame for his performance in that game.

    Anyway, thanks for reading and I’m sure you will have more to say on the subject,
    Thanks, Sam

  5. Fendi says:

    Hi Sam,

    As frustrating as it may be seeing Nani’s inconsistencies, I agree with your analysis. Nani gives a different dimension to United’s attacking line with his ability to switch sides effortlessly. It is also unfair to always compare him to his compatriot, Ronaldo, as both are different type of players.

    • john b says:

      I agree with nani adding a different angle but he puts us in horrible situation when he takes to long to pick that killer pass or loses possession tryin silly step overs

  6. Mushla Mustapha says:

    Nice read. Cant miss the stats, but did you take the number of games Valencia have had to play as a right back into consideration? I personally believe Valencia is way better than Nani and i wont be sorry to see him leave. Moments of brilliance alone is not enough, consistency os. Thanks……

  7. Britone says:

    Good observations, valencia is agreat player for my club but the fact is Nani is an predictable he deos unexpectables when it is crucial time,atime for wining the game or losing it.He comes in in and score or give an assist.but still i respect both players God has really gifted them in amaizing way.

  8. Percy says:

    I’m sad to only be reading this article now, it’s brilliantly written and I would just like to say that I agree. Once given a run of games, preferably, but not necessarily on the right side, he is essentially United’s best player. He is one of the few players who turns football into art. He might not be the most fantastic player of all time, but he plays the beautiful game in the truest sense of the term! Anyway, I stumbled upon this article while I was searching for a clip of what happens to be my favourite United goal of the past 10 years; his goal against City, with the pass from Giggs. You wouldn’t happen to know where I could find a video (online) of that?

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