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Nani for sale? Why Manchester United should think again

It looks like this summer, which is already a transitional one at Manchester United, much of the old Trafford faithful may get one of their long held wishes. For a few seasons now, the majority of the Champion’s supporters seem to have been of the opinion that Portuguese winger Nani doesn’t quite cut the mustard. It now seems that the club are ready to let the player go.

The reason for the large contingent of fans that want to see the wide man moved on is that Nani can be an incredibly frustrating player. Admittedly his crossing is inconsistent, his form often patchy and his decision making below the standard of other top wingers. Despite his failings, Nani is, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s own words, a match-winner. The 26 year old has pace, trickery and can shoot with both feet. United fans seem to forget that for stages of the 2011-12 season, the former sporting man virtually carried the side. In several games when United were struggling to break down opposition, it was his individual brilliance and flair that unlocked the door. If Nani does end up leaving United this year it will also be with a few spectacular goals in his scrapbook. Frustrating-yes, a textbook confidence player-yes, but United’s worst winger, no, not by a long shot.

Nani

Granted, as an attacking wide man, Nani is a few classes below the Messi’s and Ronaldo’s and Bale’s of this day, but If the club are ready to sell wide players, they should perhaps look at some of their other options first. Antonio Valencia for example had a terrible season. He generally offers a steadier and more consistent option to his team-mate and he applies himself better in his defensive duties. Valencia though, lacks the creative spark offered by Nani. He cannot frighten the full back the way the Portuguese can and the amount of United moves which ground to a halt last season because the Ecuador man put his foot on the ball are countless. Ashley Young is another who failed to deliver last term. Young is more similar to Nani in that he is dangerous in a shooting position and can worry defenders but he has become injury prone, is a year older and failed to net a league goal last term in 17 appearances. Nani scored twice in 10 and Valencia just once in 29.

With Wilfried Zaha arriving and Shinji Kagawa also in the mix for an attacking midfield berth, competition will be fierce but even if Nani doesn’t start he can provide an injection of pace and attacking threat from the bench. New manager David Moyes will of course be forming opinions on which members of his new squad he rates highly and will have his own plans of who to bring in but he would be unwise to dismiss the winger’s effectiveness.

It would appear that Moyes and the club may have already made up their minds with Galatasaray claiming United have set an asking price of £8.5 million. That would surely represent a bargain for any side looking to add some creativity. Nani will never be a Cristiano Ronaldo, but he can be a devastating weapon. United don’t have to keep him but he certainly shouldn’t be the first to leave. His chances were very limited last term and regardless of where he is strutting his stuff come the start of the new campaign fans can expect excitement as long as he gets a chance.

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Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham: have a look at Crystal Palace’s Glenn Murray

Hands up if you know who is the top scorer in English league football? Not in the Premier League – Luis Suarez falls seven goals short. We are talking about the top scorer across all four divisions.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if you haven’t heard of him. He isn’t even the most talked about player at his club. But it is something of a shock that more people aren’t singing his praises. His exploits certainly deserve it.

Crystal Palace striker Glenn Murray already has 29 league goals this season. And yet it is his precocious teammate Wilfried Zaha who hogs the headlines. And when observers talk of other Palace players, they mention Yannick Bolasie or Jonny Williams.

Glenn Murray

Somehow, the player who scores all the goals has missed all the headlines.

But after years as what we will somewhat lazily term a journeyman, Murray is having the season of his life. And with his Palace side sitting third in the table, one point from automatic promotion, it could get even better.

To say that Murray has arrived out of nowhere would be doing him a disservice. Now 29, he has been scoring goals at various levels since his debut for non-league Workington Reds in 2002. After a spell in America, he returned to score nine goals in nine games for Barrow, before winning consecutive promotions with Carlisle United, although this was also his most barren scoring period.

A goal every other game for Rochdale and almost the same in three years at Brighton show a man who has been doing what he does for a long time. Only now he is doing it one step away, one place away in fact, from the Premier League.

Currently the second highest goal scorer in Europe – or more specifically across the top two divisions in the five leading European leagues – only Lionel Messi has found the net more often than Murray this season.

It is a statistic that has reportedly piqued the interest of England manager Roy Hodgson; and one that has no doubt been noticed by a Premier League club or two.

His current team will hope he continues to excel under the radar and that the likes of Charlie Austin and Matej Vydra carry on being thrown into the annual rumour mill ahead of him.

Many players in the past have had that one great season. Maybe this is Murray’s. Or maybe next year the Eagles will show that you don’t need wonder-kids to have a shot in the Premier League. Sometimes you just need a bloke who knows where the goal is.

Manchester United’s wingers must show they are up to the job

This was going to be a piece about the worrying decline of Antonio Valencia, whose abject display against Chelsea on Sunday was that of a man who has forgotten what he is good at. But the truth is none of Manchester United’s first-team wingers have had a season to write home about. In fact you would be hard-pressed to recall the last great performance from any of Valencia, Nani or Ashley Young.

When Valencia moved to Old Trafford in 2009, he was talked of as one of the league’s best wide-men, and as he began beating fullbacks and supplying inch-perfect crosses, it was clear why Sir Alex Ferguson parted with £12million for his services. The Ecuadorian made wing-play look easy.  He broke it down to its simplest form – knock it and run. And his speed meant he won the race more often than not.

Antonio Valencia

When Wayne Rooney enjoyed arguably his best season to date, when everyone started referring to his head as a goal-scoring threat as deadly as his feet – that was down to Valencia. There were no tricks in his armoury, no step-overs or showboating. He ran. He crossed. And United invariably scored.
So who was the player wearing number 7 on Sunday? The player who beat himself more often than his opponent? It certainly wasn’t the man who was voted both fans’ and players’ Player of the Year last season, nor the man who came back from a horrific ankle break to become one of his team’s most consistent performers.

It would be easy to say the pressure of the number on his back has got the better of him. But do players really notice what is behind them when they are so focused on what is ahead? Can a number so significantly alter a mind-set?

With the impending arrival of Wilfried Zaha, many expected Nani to make way. But in United’s last two games it was the Portuguese player’s departure (for two very different reasons) that had a detrimental effect on the team. So perhaps Zaha will be taking the place of Valencia next season, a man who has forgotten that in football, if you can win the race, the goal is all but scored.

Nani

And yet two brief cameos and being championed in his absence should not disguise the fact that Nani has been equally erratic this season. Unquestionably talented, there came a time – back in 2010 – when it all made sense. Outstanding displays against Manchester City and Arsenal showed a winger of terrifying ability, clinical, incisive, a man very much in tune with his talent.

It seemed that finally the penny had dropped. But three years later, it is clear that Nani is a man for whom the penny drops often, only to be forgotten again shortly after. Both United fans and the wider football world must sometimes wonder what he could achieve with consistency. But perhaps that is a trait to be born with or learnt as much as any other in football.

The last of United’s three wide-men, Ashley Young, is the least so in the traditional sense. A right-footed player on the left, it is his natural and often effective inclination to cut inside and cross. He doesn’t beat a man, he stands up to them and relies on his foot to find the box regardless. It was a skill that led his former manager at Aston Villa, Martin O’Neill, to call him “world class”. And it was a skill that has resulted in some truly outstanding goals for his current club, most notably an unstoppable double in the 8-2 win over Arsenal in 2011.

Ashley Young

And yet the truth is United lack pace; which is something of an indictment on the three men employed to supply it. It is no coincidence that Ferguson did all he could to secure Lucas Moura in the summer. In his short time at PSG he has shown just what all the fuss was about.

Perhaps on his arrival, Zaha will share the fearlessness of the likes of Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, adding directness to his new team and shaking up the old guard.

But whatever happens, if United’s current wingers wish to remain, they need to find the form that some have displayed for seasons and others only for games.

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