Nani: Real Madrid needed help to stop me!
Nani says Sir Alex Ferguson believed Manchester United could have won the Champions League in 2013, had our no.17 not been sent off against Real Madrid.
The Portuguese winger infamously saw red for a high challenge on Real's right-back Alvaro Arbeloa, when United were 2-1 up on aggregate over Jose Mourinho’s side in the second leg of a round-of-16 tie at Old Trafford.
The Spaniards took full advantage of the extra man, with quickfire goals from Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo turning the match on its head and consigning United to elimination in Sir Alex’s final season in charge.
It was a controversial decision at the time, and it’s clear that it’s one that still rankles with Nani – who played an integral part in the Sergio Ramos own goal that opened the scoring in Manchester – seven years on.
“That year was so special because we were doing great. We were doing well in the Champions League and the league,” the 33-year-old told us on the latest episode of UTD Podcast.
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“In that game, [Sir Alex] knew that if we beat Real Madrid we would be the champions again. That was a big opportunity and everyone knew that, because we were so strong.
“They found a way to send me off in that game when I was playing very well. I was making the difference in that game, I remember that.”
Mourinho was notably magnanimous after the match, conceding that the "best team lost" and admitting his side’s best chances had come after his fellow countryman’s harsh dismissal.
Nani revealed that, post-match, he received support from the future United boss, as well as Sir Alex, and jokingly suggested that an under-the-cosh Madrid required help at the time.
“There was no reason to send me off and Mourinho and Ferguson they came to me and said it’s not your fault.
“I apologised to the team, I knew it wasn’t my fault. I was looking to the ball, jumping and doing the Zidane control.
“Yes, they had to find something to help somewhere!”
Although we didn’t know it then, that chastening defeat would be Sir Alex’s last outing with the Reds in Europe – with our legendary manager calling it a day after 26 years at the end of the season.
Nani says that the boss’s decision to retire ultimately helped him make up his mind to move on from Old Trafford, something that came to pass in 2014, initially on a temporary basis with Sporting Lisbon before a permanent move to Fenerbahce was secured the following year.
“When he wanted to leave I felt like I wanted to leave too. I was there so many years and now it’s a new coach and I think it’s time for me to challenge myself in a different team.
“Then I had a big injury, I recovered and went to the World Cup and the season after I was ready in my mind to leave the club. That’s it.”
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While Nani enjoyed his return to boyhood club Sporting during the 2014/15 campaign, he also conceded his club career would never reach the same heights after his departure from north-west England.
“I’ll tell you the truth. It will never be the same after leaving Manchester United to play for another club. It’s not the same. As a club, as a structure, the quality: everyone knows that. I’m not offending anybody. Everyone knows that: that’s why Man United is Man United, all over the world.
"It was great to come back to Sporting because I came back home, close to my family and my friends. It was good to breathe a little bit, to recover and get some energy back and motivation, to find a new challenge.
“To tell the truth, it was a great season for Sporting for me that year. I played very well and in the Champions League I scored a couple of goals. I enjoyed the football a lot in that time.”
Enjoy plenty more tales from dozens of past and present United players on our UTD Podcast hub page.