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.

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I support Manchester United, the greatest English football team to have ever existed. Bruno Fernandes is the latest in a long line of players with great ability to play for the club. I idolised Bryan Robson, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Eric Cantona growing up.