Nani has lifted the lid on what Sir Alex Ferguson told him to help transform him into the most feared winger in the Barclays Premier League, but it’s not what you think.
Up until the middle of last season, the Manchester United winger was, and quite literally, waiting on the wings for his chance, but there was simple reason why – he needed to learn how to defend better.
This declaration may come as somewhat of a surprise, because when one thinks about the role of a winger, they tend to think of them being loaded with blinding pace, or able to provide a pinpoint cross, but it really makes perfect sense.
Wingers, Nani in particular, definitely need to learn the importance of defending as well as attacking, because the more well-rounded a player is, the better he is, but more importantly the better the team will become.
In the early part of the season, United was saddled with some pressing criticism about their defending, but what some failed to realize is that you defend – and attack – as a team.
A lot of managers put loads of emphasis on keeping their defensive shape within their respective formation, and that starts from the front and works its way to the back-four.
To be fair on Nani, as well as his teammates, Ferguson has now consistently tinkered with his lineup for well over 150 matches, so they are constantly dealing with either a change in formation, or personnel.
Depending on the opponent and the competition, Ferguson with either go with a 4-4-2, or a variation of his preferred 4-5-1 formation.
When these changes are made, the wingers need to remember, which area he needs to be protected, because sometimes these formations require the wingers to be tighter to the forwards or a bit wider to stretch the defense.
Sure, Nani clearly understood the role he was to play in the United attack, but what he failed to comprehend is how to keep his positioning, and assist his partner, the respective full-back, handling the opposition’s initiative.
A lot of teams have tried, and are trying, to replicate how Sir Alex has chose to use his full-backs in the attack, which results in the wingers being forced to track back and cut off some of the supply lines to their opponent’s attack.
Now that Nani is fully grasping the concept of his defensive role, Sir Alex has been able to field young Rafael to partner him on his preferred right-hand side of the United’s formation, which the entire team enjoying the fruits of this combination in the attack.
Nani is now cognizant that if Rafael makes a bombarding run forward, he can cover his position temporarily so United is not exposed at the back.
Before Antonio Valencia went down with his horrific leg break, Nani was constricted to playing down the left-hand side, so Sir Alex was not too worried about his defending, because he was accompanying the well-established Patrice Evra.
What can, and should be seen as a breath of fresh air, is that Nani did not wilt away to Ferguson’s request, but more importantly, he did not carry on about helping out the United cause by defending more.
This revelation clearly shows that Nani is becoming a more mature player, but really his Premier League-leading eight assists, and six goals in all competitions is certainly adding to his growing reputation.
The Portuguese winger may not revel with defensive responsibility, but deep down Nani knows that for him to achieve any of his personal goals, he must first help Manchester United become champions again.