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Replacing Ronaldo – Obertan Or Nani?

Gabriel Obertan impressed for much of his début against Barnsley before looking tired in the final fifteen minutes or so. He kept the ball really well, ran at the opposition with speed and showed off his silky skills. He looks to be the real deal, regardless of what Larry White thinks.

He’s only had one game so there’s no point getting ahead of ourselves, but some sections of the press have already questioned what impact Obertan’s arrival and début might have on Nani. Is this fair?

On the spectrum of love to hate for Nani, I am found lingering on the more negative side, although do still believe there is a chance of him having a future at this club.

The comparisons between Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo were always going to be made, given they were both Portuguese, came from the same club and played the same position, although I think Nani has always been sold short.

Nani was two years older than Ronaldo when he first came and it showed. Nani was a much more complete player in his first year than Ronaldo had been in his first two years. For one thing, his shooting technique was far superior, with the blinding goals he scored against Spurs and Boro something Ronaldo would have struggled to emulate even in his last season at the club.

Their scoring rate was comparable (Ronaldo scored 4 goals in 29 league games, Nani scored 3 in 26) but Nani scored against tougher opposition. Whilst credit has to go to Ronaldo for making it 3-0 against City in the FA Cup as well as scoring in the final against Championship side Millwall, his others goals against Birmingham, Spurs, Portsmouth and Villa were hardly going to get the country to sit up and pay attention. In contrast Nani scored screamers against Spurs and Boro, but also scored against Arsenal and Liverpool, without forgetting him taking what could have been our last penalty in the shoot-out. He stepped up for our fifth penalty knowing that if he missed we had lost the European Cup but he whacked it as close to the right side of the post as he could, past Petr Cech, cool as you like. His most memorable moment of the season was probably when he took the piss out of Arsenal and squared up to Willy Gallas. Brilliant.

In Nani’s second year though he fell out of favour and was given limited opportunities. Whilst Ronaldo had the likes of Solskjaer, Fletcher (when he was crap) and Kleberson to compete with, Nani had Ronaldo (The Best Player in the World), Park, Fletcher (when he became good) and Giggs (PFA Player of the Year) to compete with.

I’m not Nani’s biggest fan but I can’t help but think the negative attitude towards him has been encouraged because of the comparison’s to Ronaldo, but the truth is, Nani’s raw ability when he first came was superior of Ronaldo’s, in terms of shooting and crossing in particular, but he’s never been given the same run at the team Ronaldo was. Remember when Ronaldo was not so fondly referred to as a ‘one trick pony’ in the press and by rival fans, that ‘one trick’ being the stepover. He was fairly infuriating to watch, going to ground too easily, having lame attempts on goal and not getting his crosses past the first man. But he was afforded the time to improve because of the inferior squad we had between 2003 and 2005. Nani came in at a higher level but wasn’t given that same opportunity to gain experience and improve because our squad was so much better.

So this has to be his last season to really give him a shot and being a starting player for United. He may never fulfil the potential with us and go on to be a great player for another club, but we have to give him a real go. So far it’s all been a bit half-hearted.

2009-2010: 45 minutes against Brum, nothing against Burnley, 90 minutes against Wigan, 90 minutes against Arsenal, 8 minutes against Spurs, 90 minutes against Besiktas, didn’t get off the bench against City, 90 minutes in the League Cup, 56 minutes against Stoke, didn’t get off the bench against Wolfsburg, 90 minutes against Sunderland, didn’t get off the bench against Bolton, 90 minutes against CSKA Moscow, 15 minutes against Liverpool, not in the squad against Barnsley.

Sir Alex Ferguson has today claimed that Obertan will likely be in the squad for tomorrow’s match against Blackburn, leaving Nani, Valencia and Giggs to fight over the starting positions, with Park still a few weeks away from recovery.

Obertan looks great, I’d love to think he has a bright future at the club, I’d like to see him getting sub appearances in the league and a starting place in the cups, but this season has to be Nani’s final push. We paid £17m for the lad and he has shown flashes of absolute brilliance. Equally, he has been totally infuriating. But the last totally infuriating player we had went on to be the best in the world, so maybe it’s in our best interest to try to be a little more patient with Nani.

About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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  1. sanj says:

    How can you give the lad a run in the team if he shows zero signs of improvement? If anything, he has progressed backwards. Decision making is both a skill and an instinct- Nani is instinctively selfish and I cannot think of a player I have seen make the wrong decisions as often as Nani. It is frustrating beyond belief.

    Also, I don’t think Scott meant that one player can replace the best player in the world. However, some of Ronaldo’s contributions to the squad must be picked up by other players- i.e. Nani, Obertan, Tosic, etc.

  2. Berbatovs' love life says:


  3. Shimo says:

    Decision making is learned through playing matches consistently, not through just being blessed for being a “United player”. Won’t give him a run of games because of poor decision making but, can’t improve it if he doesn’t play more … catch-22.

    It’s simple, swallow the pill and give Giggs either central role if starting (no) or come of the bench when his superior footballing intelligence and experience can be used to turn the game around against tired out defenders. In the mean time, give whoever it is supposed to be our future, more games on the trot.

  4. denton davey says:

    Shimo – that sounds easy (“swallow the pill” and “give Giggs the central role”) but the fact remains that Ryan Giggs is still one helluva player. The new formation/tactic in the way Giggs has dovetailed with Evra is almost “like a new signing” on the left wing. This is bad news for Nani BUT if he’s good enough then he’ll prevail although it looks like his progress will not be fast-forwarded unless he can prove that he is even better than Giggs. That’s some challenge ! It also points to the depth of squad that is going to be UTD’s greatest asset in the spring-time when bums bubble-and-squeak and all the matches are big matches.

    Quite clearly, UTD’s greatest strength is the depth-of-squad. When Wesley Brown, John O’Shea, Anderson, Carrick, RedNev, Scholes, Nani, Giggs, Evans, and Little Mikey – that’s a list of ten outfield players – are called upon to play they almost always aquit themselves well. How deep is squad for the other members of the “Big 4″ ? How good is the ninth and tenth man in their second eleven ? David N’gog ? Voronin ? Mikael Silvestre ? Paolo Ferreira ?

  5. Shimo says:

    I don’t disagree that Giggs is still on more occasions than not capable of brilliant play. But, people are saying this is Nani’s last season if he can’t play better. If they aren’t going to give him a chance because Giggs is playing a lot of games out there, then it can’t be laid down as his last season to prove he has what it takes to displace Giggs.

    With a player which has already developed most facets of their game it would be a fair statement to say show us you can play better than a 35 year old Giggs. But, for a developing player – to magically develop all the aspects to displace Giggs in good form is a bit much. In fact I look around the league and am hard pressed to find another left winger that is on enough form to displace Giggs the way he has started this season. Maybe for whoever that does take over the left wing spot it will be a matter of luck of just being in the squad at the time when Giggs is hardly played out there, maybe that is Nani’s bad luck.

    One thing I haven’t seen discussed is why if Giggs is the reason Nani isn’t getting games, then is he not given time on the right? Till recently he’s been more of a threat than Valencia, so why wasn’t he sharing the right wing fight with Valencia as Nani is right footed player. Valencia has been instantly been given a run of games and with that he’s been able to improve his performances, same can’t be said of Nani.

    It’s football and winning is the name of the game. But, it doesn’t matter what young players we bring in with potential, none will develop into major pieces to plug the hole left by what Ronaldo was for us unless they are going to get a chance at more than an odd game here or there.

  6. denton davey says:

    Shimo – the Valencia/Nani question is a good one. I don’t understand SAF’s decision to give Valencia time to “bed in” while playing Tinkerman with Nani. But, he’s the boss, he’s the gaffer, he’s the main man, and he’s the one with the long, long, long resume of success so, really, it’s up to us to try to think along with him. In that vein, I reckon that SAF wants to get Valencia up-to-speed and see what he can do while playing with better players; he knows what Nani can do. But he also knows what Giggs can do and what he has to offer so, really, it’s up to Nani to show him that he can do it better. Like I said before, it’s a real challenge.

  7. devil@singapore says:

    got convinced with scott article. ya boy, give nani a good run, week in week out before we lay down our judgement. hope fergie see é same rationale.

  8. slim says:

    There seems to a chain of thot here that valencia is given time to bed in. Well nani has had his time to bed in.
    the difference is in that while valencia doesnt wow the crowd with skills and tricks, he makes up for it with hard work, his speed and strength. Nani just needs to get a football brain, as a international player you should have enough of that, time on the pitch should improve his decision making not jump start if from scratch. IMO i think a revisit of the 4-3-3 system is needed

    ANDO, and Valencia either side of Fletcher with 2 exceptional players playing just further up the pitch, the area btw the defence and midfield. With our present squad i’d go for Rooney and Obertan. Plum berbatov on top of that and christmas tree and watch Old Trafford light up

  9. Gotta hate tiny tears says:

    I remember as a kid getting my sir name 11 on the back of my first united jersey my dad asked me who was number 11(thou he already knew) I said Giggs , my dad acted like he didn’t know who this kid was. I said he’s new at united and people are saying he’s the next George best, not knowin too much about bestie but knowin enough at the re to know that that’s a big deal. My dad said I know this kids good but it’s unfair on h to be puttin pressure on him with talk like that. Nani obertan tosic are not Ryan giggs , but that giggs that myself and my dad talked about is not the same as the giggs that will maybe play tomorrow. It’s that giggs +16 years. I think nani has got his fair share of chances and if it worked out he’d be replacing Ronaldos spot in the team. I think that was the plan. But plans don’t always work out . If they did I’d be talkin toy dad tomorrow about giggs, I think it’s really all about jillin time ril January till that guy plays … You know the fella. The one noone knows how to spell his name and fewer know how to say it. It begins with a L and is mates with tosic and vidic. I fella I know who’s a scout for Celtic and I where talkin 2 hours ago and he was telling me word is this kid is going to be the fuxkin dogs bollox. He said the guy he was talkin to said give him 5 years and he will get unites another 80million

  10. magdan says:

    totally agree that nani needs a run of games to determine how good he really is. look at ronaldo, he was infuriating and called a show pony but he came good after fergie gave him a run and he learnt to cope with the demands on the premier league to become the player he is today. as for obertan, great potential. the next henry? not just yet but he looks fantastic on the ball, great skill, speed, tehcnique and an eye for a killer pass. don’t forget tosic, he looks a bit lightweight but he too has great speed and potential but he needs to bulk up.

  11. Jayunited4eva says:

    off topic.did you guys read the sun?

    why do i bother reading the sun despite knowing that they’re a load of nonsense.I should just slap myself.

  12. cantona7 says:

    Scott, it is a really good article. A really interesting question. Most of your points, i’ve thought about them too and i agree with them. I have just one sentence to add – In Fergie we trust.

  13. supey says:

    i think no one watched ronaldo’s debut game against bolton.. he ran riot on the left and totally owned their defence, in the process winning a penalty.

    viva ronaldo

  14. aig alex is god says:

    the bottomline is no one can replace ronaldo in terms of his overall contribution but we definitely have some wingers out there who can scare thebest of the moment valencia is looking the sharpest and will be a regular IMO. he should always play on the right. nani has been inconsistent and this is the big season for him.perform or perish in nani’s for obertan ,he really looked good and is just 20 so he has lots of time to improve and as i said earlier he will be a legend at OT.he has pace.can use both feet and will get the proper he is not under as much pressure as nani .tosic really has to be given more chances.he is doing very well in the reserves so he should atleast be given a chance in the cup games.i want to see obertan play against a premiership side.lets see how he does

  15. ryanf says:

    As Wayne stated earlier this week: RONALDO IS IRREPLACEABLE

  16. portugueseprincess says:

    Great article Scott. I am hoping that Nani is given more games because I know he can be better. He plays so well for the national team and I hope he can become a better player for United as well. Forca Nani.

  17. bingo says:

    I do think Nani is a better crosser of the ball than Ronaldo and has all the technical ability in the world. I think its the mental side of the game that lets him down. I dont know if he is immature or if he over thinks situations but he shoild be given a chance for sure. I would like to see him keep things simple though, track back, beat a man(once is enough) and get the ball in the danger area. He doesn’t have to try and make it look as spectacular as he possibly can, simple fast effective one touch football is the game at its most beautiful. Remember Ronaldos goal against Arsenal in the CL last season.

  18. DownunderManc says:

    Nani’s performances don’t inspire others in the team nor does he cause opposition defences any great problems. Invariably we are playing teams that park the bus week in week out and we need players that can unlock the defence and create opportunities and confusion/panic in the opposition. I don’t think he can do it. Obertan looked terrific, OK against Barnsley, but he had them in two minds, Nani has our players in two minds which means there is no flow of attack.

    Our team lacks confidence and we need inspirational performances to lift the team – Nani won’t deliver that now or ever.

    We are also lacking a strong team leader at the moment. Rio’s performances are very ordinary therefore he is not entitled to berate players on the park (when needed) to get them to lift their game. The strongest personality is Rooney we don’t need our strikers to worry about anything other than scoring goals.

  19. Giles Oakley says:

    Excellent point about the lack of a team leader, DoenunderManc. That showed in all the last 3 games against the dippers and Barca in the final. We get away with it most of the time as we have so many good players. But there’s no-one who takes charge when things are going wrong. It’s maybe not Ronaldo we need to replace, it’s Keano…

  20. Norbert Bugeja says:

    Replacing Ronaldo….Impossible he’s a class of his own…

  21. MU574F4 says:

    obertan is a great player at only 20 he was better than ronaldo when ronaldo was 20 or atleast the same level.

  22. redscot says:

    Nani*****, total class, staying with it is the key! lol


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