Portugal international Nani was introduced to the media by MLS club Orlando City on Tuesday, after joining on a three-year contract from Sporting.
Nani, who has been capped 112 times by his country, brought an end to his third spell at Alvalade by completing a much-anticipated move to the United States, where he has been drafted in as a Designated Player with Orlando ahead of the 2019 season.
The former Manchester United, Fenerbahce, Valencia and Lazio man has been a bright spot in a turbulent season for Sporting, with Nani registering seven goals and four assists from 18 matches in the Portuguese top flight. However, the 32-year-old says he felt the opportunity to move to Florida felt right.
“In the past couple of years I had some approaches to bring me to MLS. But I did not feel it was the time. Orlando arrived at the right moment. I’m someone who follows my feelings and my feelings told me it was the time to move on. I was doing very well at Sporting and I was happy there, but I liked the challenge and opportunity to be part of his project at Orlando.
“Orlando give me the chance to have a new dream, to continue to believe I can perform at a high level. MLS has been improving in recent years, and they give me the conditions to show my football to this big country. Orlando is growing. They have a beautiful project for the future. They want to be a champion team who compete to win. So I was excited to come and join this project.”
Nani’s departure comes just days after another Leões fan favourite left the club, with Fredy Montero also moving to MLS to join Canadian side Vancouver Whitecaps. Nani was asked if he had spoken with his former colleague, and told the press conference in Orlando that the pair have been in communication.
“I spoke with him. He told me a little about MLS. I was happy and he was happy too. We talked a little and I told him ‘I’ll see you there’ so we will see each other. We are good friends; my family and his family are very close. So we just need to find the time.”
The 2016 European champion also took to social media, where he spoke about his departure from his hometown club. Speaking on Instagram, Nani said: “Returning to Sporting I felt at home, wearing the captain's armband made me proud, winning the Taça da Liga brought immense joy, but I can't deny we had ups & downs. I never thought I'd leave but sometimes life throws up opportunities that are good for all parties. But this isn't 'goodbye' to Sporting, it's 'see you soon'.”
Nani joins Orlando, who coincidentally share Sporting’s nickname of The Lions, as the club look to build on a poor showing last season in MLS, finishing bottom of the Eastern Conference with just 28 points from 32 matches. “I’m starting to know more about the team,” Nani said. “Over the next weeks I will get to know my teammates and the way we play.
“But we have a big opportunity to improve. We have good players, young players and ones experienced in MLS. So I hope I can help the team to improve in a lot of things, as I’m more experienced. I’m sure we will have a strong team over the next couple of years.”
Nani will not be the only Portuguese – indeed not the only Sporting graduate – in the Orlando ranks for the upcoming season. 21-year-old defender João Moutinho left the Sporting academy in 2017 at the age of 18 and arrived at Orlando in December from Los Angeles FC.
By Sean Gillen