Manchester United winger Nani started Monday’s FA Cup tie against Reading on the bench and ended it a hero.
The Reds’ brightest spark by some distance, the Portuguese scored one and set up another to send Sir Alex’s men into the quarter-finals, where Middlesbrough or Chelsea now await.
Broadcasters ESPN wasted no time handing Nani the Man of the Match champagne at the final whistle, while users on ManUtd.com have also voted the tricky winger the Reds’ star man. By some distance, too. Indeed, despite impressive performances from captain Nemanja Vidic (who bravely battled on, bloodied after an early collision), Tom Cleverley and Alexander Büttner, Nani garnered 85 per cent of the vote.
It’s an overwhelming victory and one that will mean a lot to the 26-year-old who’s been forced, largely through injury, to play a supporting role this season. One national newspaper even described him as “the forgotten man” this morning.
True, Nani hasn’t hogged many headlines in recent times (why would he when a hamstring injury sidelined him for 15 matches and more than two months?), but United fans’ memories aren’t so short. They still remember the player who, in 2010/11, contributed as much as anybody to the Reds’ record-breaking 19th league title and was widely regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous wingers. They still remember the player who terrorised Manchester City at Wembley in the Community Shield last season and delivered the final, fatal blow with an ice-cool injury-time winner.
And it’s precisely because Nani is capable of scaling such heights that supporters have, on occasion, been quick to jump on his back. Different standards apply to those who are different class, and Nani, as we saw on Monday night, is certainly a rare breed of footballer.