Nardiello could have been a contender but he's still content

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He never quite made it as a leading man within the Theatre of Dreams. And he still recalls, too well, the day Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed the harsh truth.

But Daniel Nardiello remains convinced that the Premier League can still be his rightful stage, and the Barnsley striker is determined to demonstrate that at Wembley today as his team prepare to do battle with a more familiar foe in fellow Championship side Cardiff City in the FA Cup semi-final, having seen off the elite of Liverpool and Chelsea in the two previous rounds. In the full public glare of live TV coverage, reputations can be born – or reborn.

The son of the former Cov-entry winger Donato Nardiello was a prolific striker for Man-chester United at youth level. In his first full season, he scored 14 goals in 11 starts, appeared as a substitute for the Under-19s and made his first-team debut when he came on as a substitute for Bojan Djordjic in a Worthington Cup third-round tie at Arsenal.

But then his career stood still. "I wasn't playing, so it was time to move on to get games on a regular basis," says the 25-year-old, who has one cap for Wales. "I know I was regarded as one of the bright young prospects at United. People there were talking in terms of big things from me and they had a lot of faith in me. Unfortunately it didn't work out that way but, then again, it's a tough club to be at, what with all the great players they have there."

Nardiello, one of the British-born players in a squad of 15 different nationalities, although he does have Italian roots, adds: "I got to get a sniff of the first team, but nothing major. I went to see Sir Alex Ferguson, I had a good chat with him and he said I wasn't going to be a main part of the team. It was a disappointment to be told I wasn't wanted. I was 22 and had only had a handful of games.

"But that was fair enough. And he also told me I was capable of getting a good career out of football and to go and prove it by getting back into the Premier League with someone else. I wasn't really that bothered. I just wanted to go out and play football and prove myself. Sir Alex Ferguson was always brilliant to me. He always had time for me. I was really happy to be there for six years."

After two loan periods with Barnsley, Nardiello – whose younger brother Michael, an England Under-18 international, plays for West Bromwich – signed for them permanently in 2005, only to move to QPR last June. He returned on loan to Oakwell in January.

"I believe in my ability," he says. "I still think I can play at the highest level. I didn't think my chance had gone when I left Manchester United. I've seen other players leave Old Trafford and get back into the Premiership, so I know it can happen."

The problem is that Simon Davey's team have not exactly advertised their capability of overcoming Cardiff to claim their first FA Cup final place since 1912 – five days after the sinking of the Titanic, to give it some historical perspective – having won only one of their previous nine Championship games. It is a sequence that has placed them in real danger of relegation. Yet having come this far, by such a problematic route, and with a final so tantalisingly close, you can scarcely blame Davey when, in contrast to some Premier League managers one could mention, he insists: "We are going to forget the League."

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