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Selling Nani could be the ultimate balancing act for Manchester United's top-heavy squad

The winger has been targeted by Zenit this summer and with the Old Trafford outfit requiring strengthening elsewhere, the potential sale of the Portuguese would be a logical move

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By Jonathan Birchall

Incredible one week, appalling the next; nobody does unplayable quite like Nani.

The personification of Manchester United's unmatchable peaks and damaging troughs last season, the Portuguese is consistently Old Trafford's Mr Inconsistent. As such, Zenit St Petersburg's interest and potential big-money bid for the winger, like Nani himself, brings with it a headache for Sir Alex Ferguson.

After all, this is a player who had the joint-highest combined goals and assists record in the Premier League two seasons ago, with nine and a remarkable 18 respectively, as well as scoring eight and assisting 10 in 2011-12.

Four months ago today, as United drew 4-4 with Everton in one of, if not the defining match of last season's Premier League title race, Nani showed such ruthlessness. With a goal, two assists and a destructive performance against Tony Hibbert, the 25-year-old was at his devastating, though too infrequent best.

Yet on Monday, against Hibbert again and at the other end of the East Lancs Road, the Everton full-back got his revenge.

Substituted for Ashley Young after 77 largely excruciating minutes, Nani was a shadow of the player who so impressed at the Theatre of Dreams in April, and again for Portugal at Euro 2012. Attempting eight crosses without a single one finding their intended target, such are the frustrations that come with the winger.

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The 25-year-old had a poor game in truth. The winger failed to offer any significant threat on the left-hand side for Sir Alex Ferguson's side and showed his petulance in committing several needless fouls.
It is five years since the Cape Verde-born man moved to Manchester from Sporting's prolific academy in Alcochete, travelling with the unfair and frankly ridiculous millstone of being 'the next Cristiano Ronaldo' and although there have been undoubted improvements, decision time on Nani is, you sense, fast approaching.

With less than two years until the end of his contract, Nani has already gone public over his future at the club, admitting in June that his agent Jorge Mendes, the man who brought the 25-year-old to Manchester United, along with Ronaldo, Anderson and Bebe, was in talks with Old Trafford officials over a new contract. Two months on and there is little to suggest that the £125,000-a-week contract he craves is any closer to being sanctioned.

"I am really happy but I don't know about my future," he told RTP. "Now I will study opportunities. Football is not only about England or Spain. It is possible to enjoy success in other countries."

Financially, a sale of anything upwards of £20m would make sense for United. Recouping the majority, if not all of the fee paid out for Robin van Persie would potentially clear funds for the combative midfielder the club still obviously requires more than anything else.

Indeed, Glazernomics and its effect on United's strength in the transfer market remains at best a guessing game, but without any lucrative departures so far this summer, coupled with the arrivals of Robin van Persie, Shinji Kagawa, Nick Powell, Alexander Buttner and, as of Tuesday night, Angelo Henriquez, the Old Trafford outfit will be spending around £40m net this year - close to the largest outlay in the club's history. A quality addition to central midfield would be unlikely.

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Accruing a large fee for Nani would see the club bring in double figures from a player sale for only the third time under the Glazer ownership, following the exits of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo to Real Madrid in 2006 and 2009 respectively.

With over £50m spent on potentially crippling interest repayments in the year ending June 2011, the temptation to cash in will be great. Needs must after all.

Beyond the opportunity to raise capital, be it reinvested or not, the acquisitions of Van Persie and Kagawa in particular raise the question of where Nani fits in to United's starting XI from here. To include both alongside Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck would leave no room for a static 4-4-2.

With Antonio Valencia a near-surefire starter, Nani's opportunities are surely going to lessen in 2012-13. For United, whose vastly top-heavy squad was exposed at Goodison Park with Michael Carrick forced into defence, leaving him missed in midfield, selling the Portuguese and replacing him elsewhere could prove the ultimate balancing act, for the books and the squad.

"I can have a spectacular game but nobody guarantees me I will be starting the next match. It shatters your confidence," said the winger to I in 2009. "People expect more from me and it's not easy."

Three years on and United are still waiting for more. Nani may often be unplayable, but he's by no means unsellable.

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