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?
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
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.

The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower