By Duncan Castles
Manchester United have taken the extraordinary step of inquiring about Nani's interest in returning to Old Trafford in January – just 12 weeks after they allowed him to join Sporting on an expensive season-long loan.
The 27-year-old was permitted to return to Portugal in August as part of the complex deal United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward negotiated to sign Marcos Rojo.
In addition to a £16 million transfer fee, Woodward granted Nani to Sporting without a loan fee and with United covering the vast majority of the winger’s salary.
At the time, Nani had grown frustrated with his diminished status at Old Trafford and was ruled out of United’s long-term plans. Such have been the club's travails since then, however, he is now wanted back.
One reason for United's changed stance is Louis van Gaal's decision to stand down the ill-considered 5-3-2 formation with which he began his managerial reign.
A switch to the 4-1-4-1 shape deployed against Chelsea and Manchester City has highlighted his squad's shortcomings on the wing, with only Angel Di Maria performing well in the role.
Another is the quality of Nani's play for Sporting. Restored to the kind of pivotal attacking role in which he was elected United's Players' Player of the Year in their 2010-11 title-winning season, Nani has excelled in Portugal, scoring six times in 13 appearances; including three from four Champions League fixtures. He has been directly involved in more than half of Sporting's goals since his return.
Nani's importance to Sporting mitigates against Woodward and Van Gaal securing his return. The terms of his loan deal entail that even if the player and the Lisbon club were to agree to cancel the full-season arrangement, United can expect to be asked for substantial additional compensation for Rojo as well as the salary costs of Nani's replacement.
While United have shown little hesitation in throwing unprecedented sums of money at player recruitment since Woodward's elevation to lead negotiator, rescinding the loan would be a further inelegant financial move.
Nani remains one of the club's best-paid footballers courtesy of the lucrative five-year contract David Moyes and Woodward awarded him in the summer of 2013.