Michael Owen has been given his iconic No 7 shirt. Antonio Valencia has been signed for £18m as his possible replacement. But yesterday it was to the unproven potential of Nani that Sir Alex Ferguson turned as he sought to fill the £80m void left by Cristiano Ronaldo.
For two years, ever since he made his debut in the Community Shield against Chelsea in 2007, Nani has done little to suggest he could be the man to sweeten Ronaldo's inevitable departure for the millions of United fans across the world, and his latest attempt was cut short yesterday by a dislocated left shoulder.
Nani emerged through the same youth production line at Sporting Lisbon that gave us Ronaldo and Luis Figo. Yet apart from the odd wonder goal, the winger has failed to indicate he will one day be classed in the same breath as his illustrious compatriots, both of whom have been voted Fifa World Player of the Year, in 2009 and 2001 respectively.
In the last two seasons, the remarkable Ronaldo scored a scarcely believable 67 goals for United, and lit up countless matches with his breathtaking brilliance. Nani managed 10 in all competitions.
Last season he scored just once in the Premier League – the final goal in a 4-0 home victory over relegated West Bromwich Albion. Ronaldo delivered real substance; in contrast Nani has been pure decoration.
A new season, however, looked to have presented a fresh opportunity until he picked up his injury yesterday that will rule him out of action for a while. Until the injury, the £17m winger showed none of the anxiety of a player who knows now is the time he must finally deliver. The one thing he has managed to do from time to time during his two seasons at Old Trafford is cut in from the left wing on to his right foot and score the odd screamer. The occasions have been few and far between but Nani undoubtedly picked the right time to produce one at Wembley.
With just 10 minutes on the clock, he feinted to release Patrice Evra on the overlap, which was enough to send his marker Branislav Ivanovic the wrong way. Presented with an opening to attack, he burst forward past Ivanovic and a static Michael Essien before releasing a sweetly struck drive with his right boot past the dive of Petr Cech.
A spectacular start but sadly for Nani it was downhill from then on. The Chelsea defence was able to smother his danger, either by dispossessing him of the ball or by shadowing him down dead ends. He was even tackled by Florent Malouda, hardly a player renowned for his defensive tenacity.
One moment of potential danger in the 35th minute summed up Nani's performance. His pace took him away from his opponents but his momentum took him too wide and the Blues' rearguard were happy to defuse the situation by shepherding him to the by-line and the attack petered out with a shot into the side-netting.
Nani also had to take some of the blame for Chelsea's equaliser from Ricardo Carvalho. He failed to keep up with the Chelsea defender and was a spectator at the edge of the penalty area as his international team-mate was left unmarked to head the ball home.
In the 61st minute, Nani was sent sprawling to the turf by a shuddering challenge from John Terry and that was the last we saw of him. He left the pitch holding his dislocated shoulder, to be replaced by new recruit Valencia, but leaving behind a perception that we had learned nothing new about him. The word from the United camp was that they were having difficulty popping the shoulder back in.
Nani's certainly a wonderful footballer, but there is little evidence to support the theory that he will one day blossom into a world-beating player away from the overwhelming presence of Ronaldo.Reuse content