By Duncan Castles
Manchester United have been told they have little chance of bringing Nani back from his season-loan at Sporting, Goal has learned.
Louis van Gaal had asked United to explore the possibility of recalling the Portugal international from the Lisbon club less than 12 weeks after allowing him to leave Old Trafford as part of Marcos Rojo's summer transfer.
In addition to the £16 million transfer fee paid for the defender, United loaned Nani to Sporting at no cost, while covering the vast majority of his lucrative contract.
But Ed Woodward, United's executive vice-chairman, failed to include a recall clause in Nani's deal, and any ad hoc agreement to allow the 28-year-old's return would necessitate significant compensation payments to Sporting.
Sporting have already made it clear to United that they consider a mid-season termination impossible, although Goal understands the Portuguese club may be open to negotiation should they fail to reach the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
Currently second in Group G on seven points, defeat at Chelsea coupled with a Schalke victory at Maribor would cost them their place. Even in these circumstances, however, well-informed sources say a deal would be “difficult” to reach.
United's Players' Player of the Year in 2011, Nani has recovered his decisiveness as a guaranteed starter at Sporting, scoring seven times in 14 appearances since his return, including four in five Champions League fixtures. He will miss the Chelsea tie with a minor thigh strain, but is expected to be fit again in a week's time.
"Louis van Gaal gave me the option to go," said Nani in November. "I could have stayed but I chose the best option for me at the time and I think I was right.
"I am enjoying my game again. You can accept not playing regularly for one or two years but after that, when you know you have the quality to play, you have to make a choice. That is what I did and it is working out well.
"It is a possibility that I might come back to Manchester United. Why not? It is something that eventually we will have to discuss and see if it is possible. But at the moment I am focused on my job at Sporting because it is there where I am doing well.
"To move back in January is a little bit more difficult but you never know. Let’s see what they say. I’m working hard to be at my best. I just want to continue to work very hard and play well."