My Big Mouth: Ferguson may already have his missing midfield piece

By James McLaughlin

Paul Scholes’ return to Manchester United has divided opinion with some quarters lauding it as another trademark Ferguson masterstroke and others claiming it demonstrates a weakness that the Scot has clearly failed to strengthen.

Much has been made of a move for midfielder Wesley Sneijder as both Manchester heavyweights have apparently battled for his signature in the close season but as yet,.

Ferguson has been openly critical of breaking the bank for players who won’t improve United’s team, recently saying: “I don’t want to sign a player who won’t get a game when everyone’s fit because he’s not good enough.”

The Old Trafford stalwart may just believe he has the answer to replacing Scholes within his ranks already.

In 2007, Ferguson forked out a cool £17m on Portuguese trickster, Luis Nani. Despite scoring on his debut, the winger endured a tough time adjusting to expectations in his first few seasons.

With the fans only just starting to reap the rewards of a previously over-confident Portuguese winger, Nani looked to be of the same mould.

However, the former Sporting Lisbon man crashed onto a very obvious plateau before he could reach Ronaldo’s dizzy Ballon D’or heights.

More recently, Nani has begun to step out of his compatriot’s shadow and with 21 league assists last year, he has become an integral part of Ferguson’s plans. Nani, however, has never been a traditional winger in the same guise as Beckham, pinpoint passing never being his forte.

Instead, his skills have lay in the close control which proves crucial in unlocking resolute defences such as Stoke as well as moments of dazzling trickery that are required to breach the defences of medal-laden internationals.

Over the last two years, Ferguson has ploughed approximately £30million into traditional wide men Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia. Although the pair don’t possess the same silky skills of Nani, they are more accomplished crossers to the welcoming heads of Rooney and Hernandez.

With a fully fit squad, Young and Valencia provide a well weighted balance to United’s usual four-man midfield. Nani, therefore, has to fit in somewhere else in the team structure and this could be the chance to become what David Silva is to League leaders Manchester City.

Silva thrives in a pivot role, carving through defences with incisive short passing and rapid movement and United’s number 17 could well provide a similar style of play to the red half of Manchester.

Last season was Nani’s most productive as a United player with 10 league goals to his name and 21 assists.

However, only 14% of his 30 league assists since the start of the 2010 season have come from deep in the corners and usual crossing positions. His penchant for drifting in-field often leaves gaps in wider areas which Valencia and Young make their own.

Nani has developed an abundance of confidence on the ball and his one touch passing ability could prove crucial in feeding the United strikeforce.

Although a relatively new partnership, his link-up play with Tom Cleverley in early season matches bordered on the sublime, none more so than his goal against City in the Community Shield.

If this chemistry is an omen of the future, Ferguson may be whispering in his ear to make the creative playmaker role his own as United’s squad returns to fitness and silence any calls for a marquee summer signing.

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