Nani talks about living with Cristiano Ronaldo and the former Manchester United icons pursuit of perfection

Former Manchester United winger Nani has talked about living with Cristiano Ronaldo, a former teammate of the play for both United and Portugal and the fact the winger was striving for perfection, seemingly finding it before he left the Old Trafford club and continuing it at Real Madrid and now Juventus, along with playing for his country.

Ronaldo signed for United in the summer of 2003, replacing David Beckham at the club, who left for Real Madrid that summer. Nani arrived in the summer of 2007 – both players leaving Sporting Clube de Portugal for the Old Trafford club. Nani played with his compatriot at United for two years before Ronaldo left the club.

Ronaldo had settled in, spending four years at United before Nani arrived and was living in a luxury house. Instead of being placed in a hotel until they had found permanent accommodation, Nani and another new face at United, Anderson were both offered the chance to live with Ronaldo, a chance they took up – the rest being history.

The new summer signings for United may have thought that their new residence was a place to relax and get ready for the days ahead, however, Ronaldo’s competitive streak came through with regular table tennis, swimming and tennis contests between the trio, which might have been good for fitness but not if they wanted to win. Speaking to the Players’ Tribune, Nani said:

“Not many mentioned Manchester United. But my agent, Jorge Mendes, wrote down the names of all the clubs and said, ‘For me, the best team you can choose is this one’. He pointed at Manchester United.

“I spoke with Sir Alex [Ferguson]. He wants to build you up the same way he built up Cristiano [Ronaldo]’. Before I knew it, I was looking for a house in Manchester.

“At the start I was supposed to move into a hotel, but Jorge asked me ‘Would you mind staying with Cristiano?’ So I moved in with him and Anderson, who had just arrived at Manchester United.

“Cristiano had a swimming pool, a ping-pong table, a tennis court — and every day we would compete at something. By the time Anderson and I left that house, we had become allergic to defeat.

“Sir Alex was like a father to me. Guys like Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs gave me so much good advice. I became friends with Antonio Valencia, Fabio and Rafael [da Silva], Cristiano, Anderson and many others.”

It would seem that it was a good experience for Nani and something that Ferguson would have approved of, especially if the competitions between the trio left all of them hungry to win, which is something that United, at the time, wanted too, reaching two consecutive UEFA Champions League finals (2007/08 and 2008/09) before Ronaldo left the club, another after (2010/11); winning one of the three finals (2007/08).

Manchester United eye £10 million transfer for young Portuguese left-back on Nani’s recommendation – reports

Manchester United are apparently preparing to launch a transfer bid for £10 million rated Sporting Clube de Portugal’s 17-year-old left-back, Nuno Mendes, according to reports. The teenager has a year left ons his contract at the Portuguese club and seems to come with a glowing recommendation from a former Portuguese winger – not that one.

Former United winger, Nani, who now plays for MLS side Orlando City has given the Old Trafford club some advice about the fullback. It is stated that the 17-year-old opted not to sign a new contract at the Portuguese club, which could have lasted a further two years and now big clubs are expected to make moves for the player this summer.

Mendes has not yet played at first team level for his club, but has trained with Bruno Fernandes’ former teammates. Nani has clearly heard good things about the player, who is currently coming through the same academy he and Cristiano Ronaldo did. Nani spent eight years at United, heading back to Sporting before moving to Florida.

It is stated that Mendes, 17, is known for his lightning-quick speed, his dribbling ability, and his ability to contribute to attacking play – which is everything that United manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be seeking from a left-back. Granted, the club lies in good hands in that position now with Luke Shaw’s rise in form and the appearance of Brandon Williams.

United will need to think about the future, and Solskjaer will have this in his thoughts. A club like United, who will be seeking to bring through youth, whether from the home nations or beyond, is always going to keep an eye out for great talent in and around Europe. Mendes could be a player that the Norwegian manager could be seeking in the future.

It was reported that United held talks with Sporting back in January when they were concluding the deal for Fernandes, but were unable to complete a deal at the time. It is said that the relationship between United and Sporting is a good one, especially as both club have done a lot of business over the years; Ronaldo, Nani and Fernandes came from there.

United will face competition from clubs in Spain, who are seemingly ready to make a move for the player, but should United get involved, they might have some confidence that a deal could be done. Granted, the player may not be guaranteed first team football but if he does make the rise, Shaw could be at risk if his form drops, as could Williams.

However, Williams is able to play on both sides at fullback and at times this season, had played a wing-back role, so he has something else to offer the club in terms of footballing ability. It would seem likely that Mendes, if he ended up signing for United, could be a player for the future, seemingly making his impact at first team level in two or three years.

It is good that Nani seems to think well of United, recommending players he has heard good things about, which shows you the type of player he was. He never really fit in at United, seemingly losing form more often than not but he did do some impressive things for the club and won some major honours – something that he will never forget.

Cristiano Ronaldo ‘had enough’ at Manchester United before leaving for Real Madrid, says Nani

Cristiano Ronaldo talked openly about leaving Manchester United and signing for Real Madrid before his transfer actually happened, stating that he’d ‘had enough’. It was the summer of 2009 when the Portuguese winger finally left United, months after seeing United picked apart by Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League final in Rome.

United managed to get £80 million for Ronaldo 11 years ago, which was a world record transfer at the time, which is now joint eighth in the world transfer listings. Ronaldo’s former teammate and housemate at United, Nani, has now suggested that his compatriot made no secret of his desire to leave the Old Trafford club for the Santiago Bernabeu.

It was reported at the time that Ronaldo wanted to leave the Theatre of Dreams in the summer of 2008, just after United had won the Champions League on Moscow, beating Chelsea on penalties. However, Sir Alex Ferguson managed to convince the player to remain at the club for another season, leaving the following summer, which happened.

Nani, now at MLS side Orlando City, has been speaking to his former club about many things, casting a light on the situation with Ronaldo, who is still classed, by some, as a player they would like to see return to the club. Ronaldo is a hot topic for United supporters, a what could have happened moment. Speaking on the UTD Podcast, Nani said:

“We would stay at the end of training to do competitions. [Ronaldo and Anderson] were my teammates, everyone has best friends or some they feel more comfortable with, and they were my support.

“Some days he [Ronaldo] was telling us openly, ‘I’m here six or seven years now, I think it’s enough for me’. But it was always, ‘I will see, I will see’, but we never though it [Real Madrid move] would happen so fast.

“After we won the league in the second year he left, he produced a great season so we were still surprised. You know Cristiano is very competitive and staying in his house for a day means he can challenge you any time.

“He had a swimming pool, tennis court, ping pong table. Every time there was a discussion about who was right or better, the only time we were not playing was at night.

“We were sitting on the sofa talking and Cristiano disappears but we learn that because me and Anderson in the morning we were always tired.

“But Cristiano was already up two hours earlier. It was fantastic moments and great memories we had.”

It was a massive loss for United when Ronaldo left the club. It was going to happen at some time as Real Madrid were actively tracking the player and his promise to his father, that he would play for Los Blancos meant more to him than playing for United did. There was even reports in the summer fo 2013 that Ronaldo would re-sign for United.

United replaced Ronaldo with Gabriel Obertan, who was a dreadful player for the club and Michael Owen, signing as a free agent, took his shirt number. It never really worked out for United, Obertan nor Owen at United as Ronaldo’s boots were big to fill. They still have not been filled at the club, which is a massive shame, considering he’s still playing today.

Since Ronaldo left the club, the number seven shirt has been somewhat of a disaster with Owen, Antonio Valencia, Angel Di Maria, Memphis Depay and Alexis Sanchez have all worn the number – none of them have sparkled whilst wearing it, something Ronaldo did all of the time. United could have a big future with that shirt number though.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the current United manager, influenced by Ferguson in a way, based on his training as a manager, which started before Ronaldo left the club with Solskjaer injured, is seeking to return United to the pinnacle of English and European football. A player that would make the number seven shirt sparkle again is Jadon Sancho.

The pressure of playing for Manchester United was real but very different after leaving – Portuguese winger admits

On the 6 June 2007, Manchester United signed Luis Nani from Sporting Clube de Portugal for a fee of around €25.5 million. Two summers before Cristiano Ronaldo left the Old Trafford club and coming from the same club and academy of the world’s best footballer of the modern era. The now 33-year-old is playing for MLS outfit Orlando City.

Nani spent seven seasons at United before being loaned back to the club he started his career at, making 230 appearances at United, scoring 40 goals and 73 assists. He helped the club win the Premier League four times, the League Cup twice, the FA Community Shield four times, the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup both once.

Nani has felt connected to United for a period of time, which was not something he could explain. The Portuguese winger reminisced about visiting Old Trafford earlier in his life, at the time having a feeling that he would play for the club during his career – something he was right about. Speaking about his early feeling of this, Nani said:

“I went into Manchester a couple of years before, three or four years before, when I was a junior at 17 years old. We went to England for a pre-season, I don’t remember where, but we were training and the coach, one day, said: ‘Guys, we’re preparing for a tour at Old Trafford.’

“Wow, wow, Old Trafford! Wow! The day we went there, we were inside the Museum and there was a challenge game to see who had the hardest shot. It would give the numbers and I was there, kicking every time, I can tell you, one of the hardest shots. My very hardest shot.

“Okay, on to the dressing room and it was a special moment as it was where the players sit and change for a game. I was very excited. Giggs, Cristiano, Beckham have been here and I went there inside. I remember I was sitting and the guy giving the tour said to us, ‘Cristiano sits here, Giggs sits there’. Oh, they sit here! Oh my goodness!

“Unbelievable. One day, I will sit here and I will be here. It’s funny, after probably five years, I was there and it was amazing. My team-mates were the ones who remembered that, not me. When I arrived there, after a couple of weeks or months, some of my friends were coming and said, ‘You said you wanted to be there. Do you remember, when we were going there and what we were talking about?’ I couldn’t remember but it but they remembered it. For me, it was amazing. Incredible.”

Watching the Champions League final during the 1998/99 season, in which United faced Bayern Munich at Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium, the Portuguese winger knew that United was this team. United were 1-0 down in the opening six minutes, coming close to more damage being done but in stoppage time, two corners changed everything.

United, led by David Beckham taking the first corner, saw Teddy Sheringham, after Ryan Giggs slotted the ball towards goal, equalise for the Red Devils, seemingly taking them into extra time. However, after corner – “Beckham into Sheringham, and Solskjaer has won it,” changed the course of history. Remembering this, Nani said:

The game when Manchester United won 2-1 against Bayern Munich, in the final, I remember I had a situation with another friend,” he said. “I think he lives in England now.

“Probably saying it, you just feel it. Come on, you’ve got to have a reason but there are so many things that happened in the past that now make sense.”

Back in 2007, Sir Alex Ferguson made a move for the winger, something that the player knew he could not refuse. When he was younger, he said he would play for United during a tour of the Theatre of Dreams. Now was his chance. Nani could follow in the footsteps of Beckham, Giggs, Ronaldo and more. Recalling this, he said:

“At that time, I was lucky because I was working with the strongest agents in the world and then we had a connection with a lot of important persons. People who were important in Manchester because, at that time, Ronaldo was playing there and had a similar story, you know, playing for Sporting and then Ferguson went to bring him to United. Carlos Queiroz was there as well, he’s Portuguese, so it can help a little bit and I was very excited.

“My agent asked me as there were so many teams to choose from – Chelsea, Arsenal, teams in Italy like Juventus and Inter [Milan]. Bayern [Munich] and [Real] Madrid – I don’t know if they were true but it was in the news. I chose Manchester because of the reasons they gave me at that time and everything [about how] the past was involved with me. It gave me the reasons to go there, all my story and beyond that, told me to go to Manchester. It was a club where I have a story in the past before I moved to Manchester, when I was a kid, so it was good.”

Nani never really made it last at United. He was a good player and very talented, however, his form was never something that stuck around for long. He played in some good matches, scored some great goals and celebrated his time at the club well, achieving more than some but he never quite fit into the shoes he was meant to replace.

Ronaldo was an immense talent at United, making 292 appearances, scoring 118 goals and 69 assists – helping United win the Premier League three times, the FA Cup once, the League Cup twice, and the FA Community Shield, UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup all once. Nani left the club for Fenerbahce in 2015 for £4.25 million. On leaving the club, Nani concluded by saying:

“I’ll tell you the truth. It will never be the same after leaving Manchester United to play for another club. It’s not the same. As a club, as a structure, the quality, everyone knows that. I’m not offending anybody. Everyone knows that.

“That’s why Man United is Man United, all over the world. It was great to come back to Sporting because I came back home, close to my family and my friends.

“It was good to breathe a little bit, to recover and get some energy back and motivation, to find a new challenge. To tell the truth, it was a great season for Sporting for me that year.

“I played very well and, in the Champions League, I scored a couple of goals. I enjoyed the football a lot in that time.”

I guess the weight of the pressure at United was something that got to the player, despite him not actually saying it. He confirmed that playing away from United was very different which suggested he was talking about the pressure. He did what he predicted earlier in his life and won a lot at the club and will forever be a part of it. Nani was a good player, but it might not have been the right time for him. I am thankful that he played for United though.

Over the years Manchester United has signed many players from Portuguese clubs; Bruno Fernandes could be the new star of Old Trafford

At the end of January 2020, Bruno Fernandes became the sixth Portuguese player to sign for Manchester United and the seventh to sign from the Portuguese Liga NOS. United not only hold close relationships with clubs from Portugal in terms of transfers but also in terms of historic matches.

In 2003, United visited Fernandes’ old club Sporting Clube de Portugal, for a friendly match at the Jose Alvalade Stadium, built for the European Championships hosted in Portugal the next summer. It was here that Alex Ferguson found his next star in Cristiano Ronaldo, who as a skinny 18-year-old tore John O’Shea apart. It was almost a farewell match for Ronaldo, similar to what Fernandes has been experiencing with Sporting’s fans, who for weeks have seemed inclined to lose him to a European powerhouse just as they were with Ronaldo 17 years ago.

“We were on the bus for ages afterwards waiting for the chief executive David Gill and the boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

“We were just willing them to sign Ronaldo.” 

– Rio Ferdinand on facing Ronaldo at Sporting.

Whether Fernandes will have a similar impact at United as Ronaldo is doubtful, but he will hope to avoid the injury woes of the recently departed Argentine Marcos Rojo and the inconsistency of Nani. Nani was another hot talent, tipped as the ‘next Ronaldo’ and that expectation weighted heavily. Spectacular goals and spectacular celebrations were frequent in his seven years at the club but he never hit the heights expected regularly. Nani returned to face Sporting a few months after joining United, for the first match on the club’s road to glory in the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League group stage.

Before that meeting, United had not played Sporting since the 1960s in the old Cup Winner’s Cup. The Portuguese team that United have most history with is actually Sporting’s great Lisbon rivals Benfica. The first ever meeting occurred in 1966, when George Best starred, scoring twice in a 5-1 away success. Two years later United became the first English team to win the European Cup with a 4-1 victory over Benfica at Wembley, against a team featuring the late great Eusebio. During the game Eusebio stood and applauded goalkeeping legend Alex Stepney for saving one of his shots.

“I saw it on telly afterwards and what had happened was that Eusebio had stood there applauding. Well, that’s the kind of man he was: the respect he gave to me and to football was tremendous.”

– Stepney speaking about the moment after Eusebio passed away in 2014.

After the 1960s United did not face Benfica again until being draw against the Eagles in the Champions League group stages two years in a row in 2005 and 2006, as well as later group stage matches in 2011 and 2017. Interestingly, Benfica were in two of only four groups that United have been knocked out of since the format began in 1994. There isn’t much transfer history between the two, with United only signing Swedish centre half Victor Lindelöf, and Benfica taking two Old Trafford flops in Bebe and Karel Poborsky.

Despite not having much of a relationship in the market, United always seem to be linked with Benfica players. Mention the names of Nicolas Gaitan and Ezequiel Garay to any United fan and they will probably still be convinced they will rock up in Manchester one day with how much constant speculation surrounded them. Renato Sanches and Joao Felix were two wonderkids who in recent years were heavily linked before making big moves to Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid respectively. There are notable former United players who do have ties however, such as Nemanja Matic and Angel Di Maria.

Besides the two Lisbon clubs, United have had run ins with Porto in Europe, a 4-0 win in 1997 was one of the finest European nights at Old Trafford while a 1-1 draw in 2004 which infamously saw future manager Jose Mourinho sprint down the touchline, knocked United out at the Round of 16 stage. An even quarter-final tie in 2009 was settled by a Ronaldo thunderbolt on United’s last visit to the Estadio do Dragao. In terms of transfers, as recently as 2018 United signed youngster Diogo Dalot while in 2007 Anderson joined on the same day as Nani in a double swoop.

Outside the big three, the only other Portuguese teams United have faced are Bovista in 2001/02 and Braga in 2012/13. United have a mixed history against Portugal’s powerhouses, both in terms of results and in terms of transfer record, but all United fans will hope Bruno Fernandes from Sporting can be the next Ronaldo and not the next Rojo.

copyright: JW