|Birthdate:||17 Nov 1986|
|Birthplace:||Praia, Cape Verde|
|Joined United:||01 Jul 2007|
|United Debut:||05 Aug 2007 v Chelsea (N)|
Portuguese Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha (or ‘Nani’ as we all know him) is a powerful and pacy winger.
Since arriving at Old Trafford from Sporting Lisbon in 2007, he’s gone from being touted as ‘the new Cristiano Ronaldo’ to a dynamic player in his own right. Indeed, his fellow team-mates voted him Player of the Year at the end-of-season awards night in 2011. The accolade was certainly deserved with Nani’s goals and assists (a league-high 18 for the season) playing a huge role in propelling United towards a record 19th title. The winger would not stop there though as he continued from where he had left off the following season. His close control, tight turning circle and spatial awareness were sharper than ever in his fifth season at Old Trafford and few defenders could get anywhere near him on either flank. This was all in spite of Ashley Young’s summer arrival from Aston Villa. Nani proved that he would play second fiddle to no man and continued to be a deadly attacking outlet for the Reds and the Portuguese’s form landed him a nomination for the 2011 Ballon d’Or award. Frustratingly, a reckless challenge from Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny during January’s win at the Emirates Stadium ruled Nani out for five weeks in total as the title race took shape. He returned and was part of the team that performed so disappointingly at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City but looked in fine fettle during Euro 2012 as Portugal unluckily lost out in the semi-finals. It is true that it wasn’t until Nani’s countryman left for pastures new that the Reds’ no.17 really began to fulfil his potential and step out of Ronaldo’s shadow. The 2009/10 campaign, the season after Cristiano joined Real Madrid, was meant to be the moment Nani came to the fore. But his sporadic involvement, partly due to injury, in the first half of the season led many outside the club to speculate about his future at Old Trafford. Nevertheless, Nani returned to action in January 2010 and put together a string of hugely impressive displays – and chipped in with some vital goals – to win over fans and pundit alike and partly reward the faith Sir Alex had shown in him. The United boss highlighted an increased maturity in the wide man and his blossoming personality. Having not long turned 23, it seemed fair to suggest that the inconsistency that at times frustrated fans earlier in his career was a by-product of youth. It’s important to note that Nani is an all-together different player to Ronaldo. He is an out-and-out winger, his major strength being his ability to cross the ball into dangerous areas – at which it can be said he outshines his former team-mate – whereas Ronaldo was more a marauding forward, intent on scoring goals rather than making them. Another valuable asset is his versatility. He can play on either flank, although his crossing remains most effective when he operates on the right wing, and he has the skill, pace and shooting power to be a threat when cutting back infield. Nani is also capable of explosive bursts of brilliance and spectacular goals that have proven well worthy of his equally extravagant backflip celebrations. So often the go-to guy when the Reds crave a spark of individuality or creative flair, his ability to unbalance and outfox the stoutest of defenders is a joy to behold. Old Trafford got its first glimpse of Nani’s acrobatics when he scored his first Reds goal against Tottenham in August 2007, and followed that with goals against Middlesbrough, Arsenal and – the goal that perhaps most endeared him to fans early in his career – a great strike in the 3-0 win over Liverpool at OT in March 2008. It seems now that he is living up to the early promise of his debut campaign. The challenge remains to do it on a consistent basis. After signing a new contract in March 2010 that keeps him at the club until June 2014, he has the platform to do it. Potential is still the keyword: as Sir Alex points out, Nani is not yet a finished product – but he’s getting there. “Nani is an emerging talent within the team and has developed tremendously since joining the club,” says the boss.