Nani on jumping trains, Manchester United past and present, and Euro 2016 glory

Portuguese journalist Pedro Pinto, who football fans the world over will recognise as the host of the European club competition draws and other UEFA events, recently began a brilliant podcast called 1PARA1, in which he interviews Portuguese footballers.

Former Sporting, Manchester United (among many others clubs) and Portugal winger Nani was the interviewee in show No.2, with the always bubbly and good-humoured footballer proving a superbly entertaining and insightful guest.

PortuGOAL provides a translation of some of the highlights of the show. 

Was winning Euro 2016 the high point of your career?

“Yes. I like to separate my club football and my football for the Seleção. We’re talking about representing your country. When you play for the Seleção play not only for the fans that support the Seleção. You play for your friends, you play for your family, you play for the fans of the rival clubs of the club you represent, so it’s much more than a club, or even a league. When you win the Euro, there’s nothing better – apart from winning the World Cup, of course. It’s the only trophy I’d swap the European Championship trophy for.”

Who is the person in football who left the biggest mark on you?

“Paulo Bento. He’s a coach who I’m never going to forget. I was a rebel as a youth, I did lots of things that I needed to be called out on, and I was called out on, but he knew how to get through to me. He had a special warmth towards me and he helped me a lot and I’ll never forget that.

“I’ll never forget when I was training with the youth players, which was next to the pitch where the seniors were training. Bento called me apart, pointed to the pitch where the first team was training and said: ‘I don’t believe 100% you will reach there.’ I thought, oh my God, he’s going to give me a right rollocking.

“Then he said: ‘I believe 200% you’ll reach there. I know your whole story, what you want, your difficulties, everything you’ve gone through, your family and so on and so on. Now get your head straight, focus on what’s important. I don’t want to hear any more ‘Nani took some football boots, Nani did that.’ You’re not far from reaching there (the seniors), but if you don’t get your head right, and don’t do what you have to do to help the team, help your teammates, you won’t get there.’”

“He was a coach that helped me a lot.”

Arriving at Manchester United

“When I arrived at Manchester United, I was suddenly playing with football legends. I’m talking about the biggest football superstars you can imagine.

“When I arrived I was ready in terms of fitting in with players who are going to put you to the test the entire time. Players who look you up and down and are going to try and take you down a few rungs, rattle you, make fun of you in your face, to see how you react, and it’s not easy. You’re a 20-year-old kid and you’re in the middle of much more experienced players, with huge egos and huge personalities.

“But I managed to make it, thanks also to the fact I had support – Cristiano was there, Anderson too – but it was a fantastic club. They put you to the test, but they also knew how to give you space to grow. If you had to give some back, they’d accept it no problem and would actually enjoy it because they knew that’s what they needed to hear.

“At Manchester I developed a lot in terms of mentality and my technical and physical attributes.”

Manchester United today

“When I was at United one of the things that identified the club was that you could be losing 3-0 with 10-15 minutes to go and that was when you saw what the meaning of “strength” was. It was no longer a question of talent. It was a question of get the ball upfield and get it into the net, doing whatever you had to do.

“Now, when you watch Manchester United play – and I’m a United fan, a real fan along with my son, we watch the games and we’re almost crying when we don’t win, we get really pissed off – when you watch them play you see so much talent. Perhaps even more talent than when I was there. All the players are extremely technically gifted, all of them.

“But when you watch the games you don’t see a spirit of sacrifice. There’s not that determination, that drive, that player who says: ‘we’re going to win this game, let’s get that ball in the net!’

“You have to earn the right to play. I was a winger but I dished it out, even when I was in pain. It’s a question of marking your territory first. Who lasts longest in the fight? Whoever can take the most, ends up playing. If you’re a star and you’re playing for Manchester United, first you have to “unblock” the game – you know what I mean? If you don’t do that, nothing’s happening.

“United have great players. Bruno Fernandes. If Bruno wasn’t playing well I’d rip him to shreds… only joking. I’m not one to rip apart players. You see the spirit of sacrifice that Bruno puts into the game. He puts in maximum effort, gives it his all, contributes, but there are others who don’t match his attitude.” 

Quickfire replies

At the end of the show Pinto challenged Nani to answer in a couple of words or a couple of sentences the following questions.

Most memorable goal?

Euro 2016 semi-final against Wales

Best player you’ve played with?

Cristiano Ronaldo

Most difficult individual opponent?

Ashley Cole

Player you never played with, but would have liked to?

Ronaldinho Gaúcho

Best advice you’ve received?

It was Deco who gave it to me, with lots of life advice, about the money we would earn and how we should save it, spend it, etc.

Key moment you invested in yourself?

It was when Sporting contacted me and a friend for a trial training session. We had to catch the train, then the metro, but we had no money. He didn’t go, I went by jumping the train.

Ah, they let you through the barriers?

Let me through?! No way, I had to dodge the guards [laughter].

You never know. If it wasn’t for that day…

Exactly, there was no way I was missing that opportunity.

By Tom Kundert

To listen to other interviews by Pedro Pinto with Rúben Dias, Danilo Pereira and João Cancelo in the 1para1 podcast series, click on this link.