By Chris Myson
After Sir Alex Ferguson sat through all the twists and turns of an extraordinary 5-4 extra-time defeat to rivals Chelsea, there were a number of highs and lows he could have discussed as he faced the cameras in his post-match interviews.
The fact he chose to single out Nani - his winger - for public criticism would not have come as a huge surprise to the player, but it remains an extremely telling move.
It had been a typically mixed night for the 25-year-old. While he scored a wonderful goal – initiating a smart one-two with Anderson and producing a trademark chipped finish over Petr Cech – to put his side 3-2 in front, he had his fair share of frustrating moments.
From failed tricks to wayward long-range attempts, Nani also started an on-pitch scuffle as his frustrations threatened to boil over. But it was a decision he made with the clock winding down that really irked Sir Alex.
Rather than take the ball into the corner flag in the dying seconds of normal time with his side in front, Nani attempted to beat a player but ended up losing possession.
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“We gave the ball away for the third goal when we had complete control of the match,” said Sir Alex. “All we needed to do was see the game out and keep possession. Nani decided to try and beat a man and lost the ball, and then it was a penalty kick.
“Nani is experienced. He’s an individual, he is a player who wants to beat men and we are not going to discourage that but in that situation if he had kept the ball in the corner flag, the game is over.”
For Sir Alex to single out Nani may appear harsh, especially when there were numerous defensive errors on show and bearing in mind he had scored a key goal himself, but patience with the ex-Sporting Lisbon man is wearing thin amongst the club’s coaches - not just with the fans on the terraces, who have been critical for some time.
The Manchester United manager will occasionally single out one of his players for public harsh words if he feels it is warranted or that they need extra motivation, but with the Portugal international there are more deep-lying concerns.
With his contract expiring in the summer of 2014, Nani has already attracted interest from around Europe, interest coming from the likes of Zenit to Serie A giants AC Milan and Juventus.
Goal.com understands United are becoming increasingly unlikely to extend that contract. Nani wants around £130,000-a-week to stay - a wage Zenit would have been willing to pay this summer, but they baulked at the £20m-£25m figure that United wanted to secure for a sale.
Both club and player have set their out their position in contract negotiations but at present there remains very little dialogue between the two parties as the January transfer window approaches.
There are huge concerns over his development on the pitch. Having played over 200 games for United, Nani clearly has immense technique and a high level of quality, which have been displayed at times over his seven seasons.
But he has still not pushed on and shown the ability to consistently perform at a high level or cut out the frustrating mistakes and poor decision making that prevent him from being an automatic selection, prompting the temptations to cash in if a suitable offer is received.
Frustration at the club is running high, as shown by Sir Alex’s move to criticise Nani so strongly and publicly after the game.
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Nani and his support team are already unhappy with the club’s treatment and the difficulties in contract negotiations. While they would not have been surprised by the manager’s negative remarks after the game at Stamford Bridge, they will only serve to antagonise the situation even further.
A player who can be magnificent on one day but dreadful the next, Nani and United will not be short of offers for his services in either the January market or next summer.
But regardless of whether or not his departure comes sooner rather than later, it looks increasingly difficult for Nani to navigate a permanent route back into the club’s good books.
The writing seems to be on the wall and Wednesday night’s episode could ultimately prove to be the final straw in his up and down career with United.