Nani stakes claim for Manchester United starting role at Wembley

Nani has promised Sir Alex Ferguson he will deliver if he is handed a starting spot at Wembley tomorrow.

The Portugal winger was king of the assists at Manchester United this season, with his early-season form one of the major reasons why United ended up collecting a record 19th league title.

However, with Antonio Valencia impressing since his return from a broken ankle and Nani's own performances dipping slightly, it has seemed increasingly likely the 24-year-old will miss out on a place in Ferguson's team when they square up to Barcelona in the Champions League final.

It would complete a hat-trick of omissions, given he was also left on the bench in 2008, when he was eventually introduced and scored in the penalty shoot-out, and 2009, when he was left to kick his heels on the bench.

Nani would be disappointed if he suffered that fate again. He believes he is the man to unhinge the Catalan giants.

"I have played against Argentina and Spain and always done well," he said.

"Barcelona's football is the same and the players are the same.

"I like to play against teams who play that way. It is good for me.

"I feel happy because I know when I play against those players, it will go right."

Yet Nani also views Barcelona's star names as the men who set a standard he needs to match.

For so long overshadowed at United by the vast contribution of Portugal team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani has blossomed since the former world player of the year's departure to Real Madrid two years ago.

He is adamant further development is possible though, and watching Lionel Messi at home on TV only fuels his desire to get better.

"When I am at home and watching TV I think about Barcelona's players in a totally different way than if I am playing against them," he said.

"At home, I appreciate the way they play.

"Messi is the best player in the world. I like to see him play and see the things he does. He inspires other players to do different things as well.

"But on the pitch I want to be better than them.

"Every day I am on the training ground I always practice. I want to improve the things I am not good at. I am trying to be mentally stronger.

"I am not perfect but feel with more experience I can contribute more to the team."

That impact may not always be immediately obvious to the watching public.

There are still times when team-mates appear infuriated at a failure to deliver early balls, a key component of Antonio Valencia's game and a reason why the South American may just get the nod from Ferguson for the single winger's slot believed to be up for grabs.

However, his victory in the United players' player of the year poll was confirmation Nani's contribution is recognised in the dressing room.

"That meant a lot to me," said the former Sporting Lisbon star.

"It means the people who work with me know what I am doing every day, during training and matches, and recognise my contribution for the team.

"That makes me happy. It is more important than any trophy from the fans or the league."

Nevertheless, Nani is sweating on his starting spot, with Valencia having the added advantage of being fresh after his lengthy injury lay-off.

"There is no pressure on me," said Nani.

"I know my quality. I know what I have been doing for my team-mates.

"The manager knows what he is doing. I have played every game.

"Antonio is just starting now. He has played a couple of games because I needed a rest.

"Now I am feeling very good so we will let the manager decide.

"Whatever team he picks, I just hope we win."

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