By Francis Johnson
One of the criticisms of the Manchester United side that relinquished their Premier League title to cross-town rivals City last term was a lack of energy in their midfield. However, this accusation is predominantly aimed at the centre of the park, rather than out wide, as the likes of Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Nani are as good a wing trio as there is in the division. Despite Sir Alex Ferguson scouring the market for an engine room playmaker, the signing of Shinji Kagawa, another predominantly wide player, is the only major addition to the squad this summer as yet. This sparks the questions: Is Nani on his way out of Old Trafford?
With Valencia being widely-recognised as one of the Red Devils’ best and most-improved players last season and Young a pivotal player in the United attacking game, Nani’s role in the first-team is under question if everyone is fit and able to play. Kagawa has been signed to add a link between the side’s midfield and attack in 2012-13, but the Japan international will most likely start from a wide position in a four-man midfield.
Kagawa’s style of play is similar to that of Young, in that he will look to come off the touchline and support the strikers, is comfortable with the ball at his feet and will look to take advantage of space. Nani’s preference to hug the touchline is effective, but the dynamic nature of the new signing and the fee shelled out should mean that a starting place for Kagawa on one side, and Young on the other, is Sir Alex’s preference.
This also leaves the impressive Valencia on the sidelines as a more-than-able deputy should things not go to plan. Although Nani is unpredictable and talented, he looks like he could be facing the prospect of being fourth-choice winger in 2012-13.
Nani’s current contract situation is hanging in the balance, with little progress seemingly being made in the objective of an agreeable extension. The Portugal international has two years remaining on his deal with Ferguson’s men, but the legendary Scottish boss will be reluctant to allow the player’s deal to run down and see his potential transfer value drop.
As such, an important period lies ahead in deciding the player’s future. If a contract deal is still not agreed upon in a fortnight’s time, Ferguson and the book-balancers at the club may well feel that the tricky winger’s time in England could be up, and look to get a financial boost from a player whose first-team starting jersey is certainly currently in question as it is.
With Juventus long-term admirers of the Portuguese attacker and surely no shortage of suitors in Europe if United decide to sell, Nani could well command a handsome transfer fee that could be used to help fund the acquisition of a new playmaker or left-back, which at the moment seems to be a bigger priority for the club than maintaining four wingers competing for two places.
About the Author
Francis Johnston is a freelance football journalist with a degree in Sports Media and a love for the beautiful game. A life-long Manchester United fan, Francis is an expert on British and European football and has a soft spot for Argentine giants Boca Juniors. Francis is retained by acclaimed football blog as their lead columnist and also writes for a number of leading media outlets.