James Lawton: United still flat despite Nani's shot of brilliance

It was a terrible week for the manager, and the embattled football club who had spent a fortune in return for a place in the relegation zone; a club of glorious tradition but with so many fans filled with doubts about the future, who wondered quite what game the directors and the manager were playing.

Then there were the problems of Tottenham Hotspur.

But if the joke eventually returned to the laps of the Spurs directors, led by chairman Daniel Levy – they all had the sheepish expressions of men who maybe realised that in the last few days they had brought to life every doubt that ever existed about the knowledge and instincts of the men in the football boardroom – the United deliverance that came with the late goal by the £17m signing Nani was rather less than profound.

The truth was that it was still another day when a Premier League which spent the summer luxuriating in reflections of unparalleled wealth and glory showed more glimpses of something less than a perfect pitch of new competition. You could put it another way. It is a new season for which a search for something more than a touch of fleeting quality has become pretty much a pursuit of a lost chord.

Who will be the first serious title contenders to announce an authentic strain of quality? At the fourth time of asking, United came up with a largely unsatisfactory answer.

It's true the quick and tricky Nani produced a moment of extreme excitement – and relief – when his drive flicked off his £20m team-mate Carlos Tevez for the winner, but the 19-year-old Portuguese, like the rest of his team-mates, still has a formidable amount to prove.

Based on his performances against Manchester City and now Spurs, Nani is in urgent need of a hard and inventive edge. No doubt the case for the defence is that he is young and must be given time to find his way in the new terrain of the Premier League. For the moment, though, he must suffer the charge that he doesn't appear to be a whole lot more than another scampering indicator of football inflation.

Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at Old Trafford in the wake of David Beckham for a mere £12m and almost immediately announced an extraordinary range of natural skill and easy power. Maybe Nani will grow over the next season or two, but there was something about his compatriot Ronaldo that instantly assuaged doubts. He might have a period of immaturity, he might provoke plenty of exasperation, but here surely was a serious talent. Nani has ability, unquestionably, but it is not the kind that threatens to knock your eye out.

Frankly, much the same currently has to be said of his team – the reigning champions of England. Until Nani broke down Tottenham resistance, which reached its most passionate – we are speaking relatively here – when the referee Howard Webb twice denied them penalties, United's level of creativity had dropped alarmingly.

Michael Carrick was pulled off for the midfielder Chris Eagles to have a chance to make some inroads into the Spurs defence – and here was another disturbing example of a high-priced young player failing to deliver the kind of quality you might expect when it matter, in this case one valued last season at £18m.

The more the deadlock deepened, the more you had the sense of a season desperately in such of a vein of quality.

You also had to say that if the White Hart Lane board has behaved quite appallingly over the last few days, if it has organised its club in a way almost guaranteed to produce an unworkable clutter of separate chains of command, it also has its reasons for feeling a fairly deep level of frustration.

The beleaguered manager, Martin Jol, has done some splendid work. He has undoubtedly lifted the team to their most seriously competitive level since the time of Terry Venables, and there were moments yesterday when the quality of Tottenham's work was striking, generally when Dimitar Berbatov was around the ball and the highly promising young Gareth Bale was intruding into the action.

But always there was the feeling that this was a team who didn't really believe they had the right to make serious arguments with Manchester United, which was fortunate for the champions. There were times when even the relentless Paul Scholes seemed on the point of abandoning the challenge of setting United free, of providing the kind of interventions which so often last season pushed backed the barriers.

In the end it was Nani who made the run for a touch of United daylight. However, it still left us in search of something to lift a new season which still refuses to fly.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum