Luis Nani exit: The curious case of the Manchester United winger

The Old Trafford career of Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha - the player unfairly billed as the next Cristiano Ronaldo - looks to be at an end

Amid the clamour for new recruits and myriad of reports of impending arrivals at Manchester United, the departure of Luis Nani on a season long loan has gone through a little too quietly.

The deal bringing in Argentina left-back Marcos Rojo has seen the player billed as 'next Cristiano Ronaldo' return to Sporting Lisbon - thus ending a strange seven-year spell at Manchester United.

Nani arrived at Old Trafford in 2007 at the age of 20 for around £17m, and comparisons were quickly drawn with his fellow countryman. The parallels were to prove as unfair as they were easy to draw. He was Portuguese, he had arrived from Sporting Lisbon, he dived, he was a winger and he loved a step-over or five.

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Yet as he leaves the club, the early optimism that United had captured another Iberian gem has finally been extinguished after season-upon-season of infuriating inconsistency and dawning realisation that he was just nowhere near that level.

Watching Nani over the years, it was impossible to escape the feeling that the comparisons with Ronaldo hung around the winger's neck, weighing him down through all too many performances.

When he regularly failed to reach the ridiculously impossible standards set by arguably the greatest ever player to pull on a Manchester United shirt, Nani was perhaps unfairly called out. After all, while he looked up to the player who would become the most expensive in history, he never made the comparisons himself.

<b>Man Utd v Norwich, Saturday 3pm</b> <br/>
Man Utd began the season in seemingly unstoppable form however they have shown in their last two games that they are not infallible and were fortunate to draw with Basel midweek. While Norwich have achieved back-to-back victories it is difficult to see them avoiding defeat on their visit to Old Trafford. Man Utd hope to welcome back the rampaging Wayne Rooney after his hamstring injury as well as Javier Hernandez and must be favourites to record a big victory. <br/><br/><b>Recent results:</b>Norwich 2-0 Man Utd (09/04/2005, PL), Man Utd 2-1 Norwich (21/08/2004, PL)
<br/><br/><b>One to watch:</b> <b>Nani</b>, played his 100th game for the Red Devils in their recent 3-1 demolition of Chelsea. The diminutive Portuguese winger has begun to step out of the big shadow left by fellow countryman Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford and put in good performances on a regular basis. His pace and much improved delivery will be a huge danger for the visiting Canaries.  

When Ronaldo departed for Real Madrid in 2009 Manchester United fans hoped Nani would emerge from his shadow. And for a bit he did.

At the end of the 2010/11 season, Nani took home the Players' Player of the Year prize from the Manchester United awards ceremony. He also finished one per cent behind Javier Hernandez in the fans' poll.

Later that year Nani found himself included on the 23-man shortlist for the Ballon d'Or. He was never going to win it but a season reaping 14 assists and 10 goals in all competitions hadn't gone unnoticed.

<b>Nani</b><br/>
Derided in the early stages of his United career as Ronaldo-lite, the petulant step-over lover took time to settle into his new role on the wing after his countryman's departure last summer but has made it his own since Christmas, almost leading United to a fourth successive title. Cristiano who?  

But Nani never matched those sort of figures again - and last season managed just one goal. When he netted at the World Cup over the summer it was a stat that didn't go unnoticed.

 

Manchester United are famous for treasuring their legends - but while statues are erected outside Old Trafford for the very best, the player whose looks were often compared to those of Michael Jackson will have to make do with the life-size marble statue of himself he allegedly keeps in his living room. That's all that 25 goals in 147 league appearances gets you.

Read more: Reus and Muller turned United down
Rojo switch to United confirmed
Usain Bolt says United have 'work to do'

Nani's return to Sporting Lisbon may just be a loan, but it seems unlikely he will ever return to Old Trafford. Moments will be remembered when he was truly brilliant - but the problem with Nani, they were only ever moments.

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