Ferguson praises super Nani

Ferguson freely admits Cristiano Ronaldo was a “once-in-a-lifetime”

player, who will go down in the history books for his phenomenal

42-goal contribution to United’s 2008 Champions League-winning

season. However, since his fellow countryman left for Real Madrid

12 months later, Nani has stepped out of the shadows and become

United’s main man. He may still frustrate by holding on to the ball

too long but he is also capable of bewitching skill that opponents

struggle to contain. The 24-year-old scored his 10th goal of the

season in last weekend’s Manchester derby win at Old Trafford and

Ferguson is expecting much more from the former Sporting Lisbon

star. “Ronaldo was exceptional,” reflected Ferguson. “He is a

one-in-a-lifetime player. “But it did take him time to settle and

develop in the English game. If anything, Nani has done it a bit

quicker. “I don’t need to trumpet his improvement. He has been

consistent all season. “He is a match-winner who creates goals and

he scores them. He had seven strikes against City and that is a

high ratio for a winger, particularly in a big game. “He is showing

maturity now. Every time he gets near the box you think something

is going to happen. When you get that, you have a great player.”

Yet, as Ferguson pointed out at the time, Nani’s latest effort,

whilst exceptional in its own right, will never be recalled because

of the brilliance of what followed. The debate over Wayne Rooney’s

overhead kick has continued all week, with some pundits arguing it

was the best goal ever scored at Old Trafford. Ferguson has his own

take on that one. “It was the most unexpected goal ever,” he said.

“Nobody expected him to elevate himself in that fashion and deliver

a shot with that ferocity. “There have been plenty of overhead

kicks over the years. We have almost forgotten about Dimitar

Berbatov’s against Liverpool earlier this season. “But with

Wayne’s, it was the surprise of it.” Although Ferguson did not go

as far as to say he was about to take Rooney off last Saturday, he

did confirm he was preparing to introduce Michael Owen, whose groin

injury is not as serious as it was first feared. “I was warming

Michael up to go for it but I was trying to work out what the best

way of doing it was.” Neither Owen, nor, in all probability, Rooney

will be involved in tomorrow’s FA Cup fifth-round tie with Crawley.

Any involvement for Ryan Giggs may be limited to the substitutes’

bench as well given United head to France next week for their

Champions League duel with Marseille. Nevertheless, Giggs will head

across the Channel with a one-year contract extension in his

pocket, and more warm words from Ferguson for a man who now seems

to be setting fresh landmarks by the week. “You run out of words to

describe Ryan Giggs,” said Sir Alex Ferguson. “He is a marvellous

player and a wonderful man. To have the desire and the ability to

play at the top level in such a physically demanding position at

his age requires a special person. “He is still turning in

man-of-the-match performances and his experience is so vital for

the younger players in the squad.” Ferguson has pledged to play a

similar-strength side to the one he used at Southampton in the

previous round tomorrow, which points towards the introduction of

Gabriel Obertan and Bebe. Anders Lindegaard is set to make his home

debut, whilst Wes Brown and John O’Shea could also be used in a

defence lacking injured duo Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans. Javier

Hernandez will occupy one of the starting berths, even though

Ferguson considers the Mexican to be a better substitute at

present. “That is possibly true at this moment in time,” said

Ferguson. “Javier’s training performances have improved

tremendously in the last couple of months. His work-rate and

practice ethic have been very good. “He comes in early and stays

behind. He has done very well in that sense and is improving all

the time. “He is a great impact player.”