Nani needs more love at Manchester United, says Braga coach who spotted him

Marginalised winger returns to homeland with contract impasse clouding United future

Braga

Manchester United hardly have a mountain to climb here tonight, even though the players must scale four flights of steps from the subterranean dressing room simply to reach the pitch, which is hewn out of the side of a granite peak.

Nani may feel that he is on a rock face though, as he ponders a possible return for United against a Braga side managed by the man who first saw a talent in him and actively discussed it with Sir Alex Ferguson before United paid Sporting Lisbon £17m for the winger five years ago. The 25-year-old's peripheral role for Ferguson, reflected in the figures on the new contract he has rejected, is not what the player expected when he eyed the prize of becoming United's next Cristiano Ronaldo following his compatriot's departure to Real Madrid in 2009.

Braga's ebullient coach, Jose Peseiro, who plucked Nani out of Sporting's Under-18 side and cast him into the first team, said yesterday that the player was the kind who needed more encouragement than this – "an embrace and support" as he put it. "I know him," Peseiro added with a grin. "If he doesn't play, it is not easy for him. He doesn't feel well when he doesn't play – because he likes to play. All players have different personalities. Sure, the English players don't need too much support, but the Portuguese, Brazilian and Spanish players need more emotional contact. Sir Alex Ferguson can't speak differently to him than to the others. But I know some players need more. Nani needs more, I think."

There is surprise across Portugal that the boy from Cape Verde, who has started only six of United's 13 games this season, should be on the margins. The leading authorities on Paulo Bento's national side cite him, and not Ronaldo, as the better performer for them. Certainly, Nani's unwillingness to heed Ferguson's requests and sign the new deal is in danger of committing him to obscurity at Old Trafford.

Sources close to the player say that an amicable meeting between the two a month ago concluded with the United manager telling Nani that he had to select his teams with an eye to the future, not on a player who would probably be gone by next June – 12 months before his contract expires.

Nani is also said to be motivated by money, so an approach from Russia might not ultimately be discounted, even though the only offer on the table this summer, from Zenit St Petersburg, was rejected. But you imagine he would feel better about United at the moment had not Antonio Valencia – who offers more consistency and versatility – and Ashley Young – a lesser threat – gradually eclipsed him.

"I don't know if the problem is that he doesn't sign another contract," Peseiro said. "I don't know if the coach has less confidence in him, or if he just doesn't feel right at this moment. I know that after Ronaldo left Manchester, [Nani] had two or three fantastic seasons. Manchester depended on him. At this moment it isn't the same. But a player can only play at the maximum level when he's happy. If he's not happy, he can't."

Peseiro was certainly happy at the prospect of receiving United at his club's breathtaking, two-sided stadium, designed by the renowned architect Eduardo Souto de Moura and spanned by steel structures inspired by Inca bridges. Yesterday marked the 26th anniversary of Ferguson driving south from Aberdeen to take the Old Trafford job, but asked if he would be bearing gifts Peseiro said his team "don't want to give anything to Sir Alex Ferguson".

Of course, there was deference for a man whom Peseiro has met five times – Ferguson's former assistant Carlos Quieroz is the mutual friend – and an awareness that United are seeking qualification for the knockout stage, which a win tonight would deliver. But Peseiro has his team playing what locals in Portugal's third city call romantic, passing football. "Our team has one philosophy, with players for that," said a manager whose side led 2-0 at Old Trafford before losing 3-2. "We never feel afraid." Admittedly his defence doesn't always look as divine.

United have not won their first four group stage games since 2007-08, the year they were crowned champions, and Ferguson said he has made good on his promise to learn from last year's group-stage elimination by "paying more attention to team selection". He cited the presence of Javier Hernandez, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney against Braga at home. But United's fright that night, taken with their desperate display in Cluj, suggests that it has not been a procession for them on the continent. Not a mountain in their way, perhaps, but certainly a sizeable object.

United are only English team who can rule Europe, says Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson declared last night that he possesses the squad to meet the challenge of the three other sides he believes could win the Champions League: Barcelona, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.

The Manchester United manager, who said that Chris Smalling may play his first football of the season at Braga tonight, believes that Jürgen Klopp is setting his sights on the Champions League after falling 11 points behind the Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich.

"You can't go by Real Madrid and Barcelona, that's fair to say, and I do think Dortmund will be about the Champions League this year," Ferguson said. "Those three teams have outstanding chances and I hope we can join them because we have a good squad of players."

Phil Jones will be back training on Monday, Darren Fletcher has missed the trip with a cold and Paul Scholes has an extended rest. "I'm just thinking of an old man, that's all," said the manager.

Ian Herbert

Kick-off 7.45pm, Municipal Stadium

TV Sky Sports 4

Referee F Brych (Ger)

Odds Braga 2-1 Draw 12-5 Man United 13-10

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
books
News
i100
Sport
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club that later became synonymous with Hillsborough has dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor