Nani in action against Manchester City.

Nani: It felt amazing to be a United player

Born Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha on 17 November 1986, the man who wore our no.17 shirt for seven years became popular with Manchester United supporters for scoring spectacular goals and dazzling opposition defenders.

In this archived Inside United interview from 2010/11 - a title-winning season when he was named Players' Player of the Year at United and nominated for the PFA Young Player award - Nani recalled his formative years and how he realised a dream by signing for the Reds...

You once said that when you first joined United, you were so excited to be playing with big stars. Looking back, were you slightly overawed by everything and do you think that affected your progress initially?
It was just a big change for me. Of course I was excited, but it was hard in some ways because you have a lot to adjust to. I didn't know the language, the food was different and even getting used to driving on the other side of the road took time!


Nani poses with a Manchester United scarf after signing for the club in 2007
The Reds signed Nani from Sporting Lisbon in the summer of 2007.
“I was on my own as well, as my family had stayed in Portugal, but at the same time I was very lucky that I had Anderson, Cristiano [Ronaldo] and Carlos [Queiroz] at the club. We could chat together in Portuguese and I learnt a bit of English every day with Ronaldo and Carlos.”


What do you remember about your days playing football on the streets of Amadora in Portugal?
“When I was younger all I thought about was football. I would get up early to go out and play, and not come back until late. I wouldn't bother coming in for lunch, I would just be out playing football all day. They were good times, but sometimes it wasn't easy because the area where I lived was a tough place. There were some problems there. I had to be strong to make sure I just concentrated on football, to make sure I never got distracted and had my head turned to go the other way. I was very lucky that I had football to focus on.”


Did you always believe that you'd make it as a professional?
“It was always what I dreamt of doing. My older brother, Paolo Roberto, was the one who got me into football when I was younger. He was a good player back then, the best in our area in fact, and he taught me everything. My father was in Cape Verde at the time and couldn't come back to Portugal, so my brother was like a second father. He was my inspiration.”


You're renowned for fancy footwork - did you spend a lot of time learning and practising tricks and flicks as a youngster?
“Yes, me and my friends would spend hours practising in the street. We would watch all the great players on TV and try to copy their tricks. I remember watching a lot of [Brazil legend] Ronaldo and Luis Figo when they were at Barcelona. The skills you learn give you the confidence to play football, but the rest you have to learn at a club. I was very lucky to join a club like Sporting [Lisbon] because they taught me about the rules of the game and looked after me very well.”


FC Barcelona's line-up for the 1997 Cup Winners' Cup final
As a youngster learning his skills, Nani drew inspiration from the Barcelona team of 1997.

What was early life like at Sporting, and was it a good place to learn your trade?
“I learnt so much whilst I was there. There was always someone there to explain to me about things I wasn't sure of, and to help me make the right choices and never get distracted by anything bad. The people at the club taught me to do the right things on the pitch and I will always be grateful for their support.”

We heard that you visited Old Trafford with Sporting before you joined - did you ever imagine you'd become a United player?
“I remember that visit. I came with my friend and we did the tour of the Museum and the stadium. I remember sitting in the first-team dressing room and both of us saying, 'Wow, this is Cristiano Ronaldo's place,' and, 'This is where Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs sit!' We sat there and said, 'Imagine what it would be like to be part of this dressing room one day.' And then, two years later, I joined the club!”

Nani celebrates a goal at Old Trafford
Nani realised a dream by joining United - two years after taking a stadium tour.
So playing for United had always been an ambition of yours...
“It was just a dream really. I didn't really believe it until I actually arrived. It was a great feeling when I signed. That friend, who was with me on that first visit to Old Trafford, came to stay with me in Manchester after I joined United and we laughed about what we'd said when we sat in the dressing room. It just felt amazing to be at United as one of their players.”

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