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Euro 2016: Nani and not Cristiano Ronaldo will help Portugal beat France in the final

Naman Kaul
630   //    10 Jul 2016, 12:05 IST
Nani has been a different beast so far in the tournament

“The new Ronaldo, The new Ronaldo!!” the emotion was gripping the footballing world with tenacity. It was the cusp of a new partnership, which would in the mind of punters and pundits alike make Manchester United an even stronger force to reckon with. The naysayers and the cynics had a firm stoic expression, waiting for Cristiano Ronaldo to prove his mettle completely first. Before ushering in a new Ronaldo, let Ronaldo become a beacon first they said.

Nani at a young age had landed himself into the whirlwind of expectations and exasperations of English football. Comparisons in any sport is as common as a cold. Both Ronaldo and Nani had come from a country rich in football history, the land of the extraordinary Eusebio and the fantastic Figo. They were both fast, strong, tedious, flamboyant and most of all, unafraid. They had both come from the same club, played on the wings with an uncanny ability to move inside when the occasion demanded it and always looked dangerous. Nani could rely on Ronaldo’s knowledge of the English game, on how to manage time on and off the pitch, how to train, how to tackle the media, how to win over the fans.

Nani initially impressed with his performances in the Premier League. He was skillful, had great feet although not as good as a ‘Flamenco Dancer’, and had a good work ethic. Alex Ferguson always maintained that one of the most critical factors of his achievements with Manchester United was the work put in by Ryan Giggs and David Beckham, on either flank, day in and day out. Nani molded himself into his manager’s will like butter on hot bread. He showed sparks for which he was picked and an immense appetite for making and scoring goals.

Some of the skeptics soon turned over and went gaga over this new kid’s talent and skill. Nani worked hard to get a place in the starting eleven, however, one of the greatest transfers in footballing history had left him with excess weight on his shoulders. Ronaldo’s move to the Santiago Bernabeu meant that Nani was rushed into the big boots of the three-time Ballon d’Or winner, before he was even ready. He shouldered the responsibility well on occasions and on others, well you just don’t go and mouth off the Gaffer.

After being a part of many trophy wins with Manchester United, Nani was found inconsistent – one of the cardinal sins in club football – and loaned to his old club. After some superlative performances, he moved to Fenerbahce with talismanic striker Robin Van Persie who was on was deemed surplus at Old Trafford. Nani, however, was still just in his late twenties, and ruefully was on his way down the ladder when he should ideally have been peaking. The cynics and skeptics were licking their lips and snarling.

It was a different world for Nani when it came to international football. He played the beautiful game with the master craftsman Figo, the creative Deco who was full of guile, yet his most helpful teammate albeit inadvertently was Ronaldo. Ronaldo was the face of the team, the one who had to face the harsh critics of the media as well as the sad and somber faces of the Portuguese people whenever the team failed to win.

He was always at the front facing the line of fire. Even the greats such as Lionel Messi, as recently seen, have waved the white flag in front of it. Nani was always shielded to a certain extent in tournament football, and this might have had a better impact on him as a player. UEFA Euro 2016 would have been viewed by him as an opportunity and he has managed to grab it with both hands.

The Portuguese have not been playing football which has been easy on the eyes, however, Greece did not win the Euro by pleasing everyone. They are playing with a plan and Nani has been an indispensable asset with his experience, speed and strength. He has managed to score crucial goals, all three of them at critical junctures of the matches.

It was his instinct and guile which got Portugal the second goal against Wales. It was typical poacher’s goal which would have madeFilippo Inzaghi and Ruud van Nistelrooy proud. He has been in good form, thanks in part to compatriot Ricardo Quaresma, who nursing an injury, which allowed Nani more game time. Nani made the most of his opportunity and has put Santos in a fix. His form has been tremendous when Ronaldo has looked a shadow of his old self on the pitch at times. The French will be wary of Nani, they would be foolish not to. The 29-year-old has transformed himself this Euro and something tells me the journey is not yet complete.

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