Exclusive: Luis Nani reveals he was once offered chance in Indian football
The former Manchester United star recalled memories from the famous UEFA EURO 2016 win, time at MLS, Indian football and more.
It’s a tense atmosphere inside the Stade de France in Saint-Denis. Outside too, there have been reports of unrest between the fans near the iconic Eiffel Tower with the riot police having to interfere. The stakes are as high as they can be. The referee, Mark Clattenburg, blows the whistle for full-time as the UEFA EURO 2016 final between Portugal and France will now move into extra-time.
France have had the better chances in either of the halves and being the hosts, are favourites to lift the trophy. Moreover, Portugal have been dealt a massive blow with a teary-eyed Cristiano Ronaldo forced out of the pitch due to injury. The onus is now on the other experienced stars in the lineup to get the job done.
The game’s resumed. Both sides are playing a safe game so as to avoid any counter-attacking moves. With only 11 minutes left, it’s most certain that a penalty shootout will take place. But hold on, here comes Eder, the substitute who came on late in the second half. He’s got the ball. Moves past Laurent Koscielny, decides to take a chance and strikes from distance. Samuel Umtiti and a diving Hugo Lloris can only watch in horror as the ball hits the bottom left corner of the net. It’s a goal! Eder has won it for Portugal! Stade de France has just witnessed a phenomenon!
A simply unforgettable moment for everyone associated with Portugal. “It is one of the biggest achievements of Portugal and I’m very proud to be part of it,” states Luis Nani, one of the players on Fernando Santos' side who shouldered a big responsibility on the night of the EURO 2016 Final.
Nani expressed his feelings about the victory and also threw light on his career after ‘that night in France’ in a recent conversation with Khel Now. “It was a great moment. My dedication for the national team was the best.”
“I’ve always put the national team in first position. So, it was kind of special. Every time I was there, I thought I was playing for my family, my friends and for my background. That made me feel special when I was in the national team,” he added delightfully.
The tournament itself was a fairy-tale run for the team. Three consecutive draws in the group-stage and many wouldn’t have imagined them to go all they way and lift the trophy. But Luis Nani, along with Ronaldo and the other experienced figures in the squad took it up to their chins.
Nani scored twice in the group-stage against Iceland and Hungary and again in the brilliant semi-final win over Wales. It was a tremendous effort from him along with the team who fought the odds to achieve the feat. “This is something that makes me happy when I look back to my time in the national team,” he quoted.
With Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo at 34 and 36 respectively, a very common question asked is that who will take the baton forward for Portugal? The former went on to express his opinion on the same. “You can see there is a lot of talent playing for the national team right now. They are playing for some big teams (clubs).”
He continued, “You have Bruno Fernandes doing well for Manchester (United), but in the national team hasn’t had many opportunities to show his quality. But very soon, he will put his game for the national team. And then you have Joao Felix, Bernardo Silva, Andre Silva; players who are gaining confidence and getting stronger in their own games.”
“Very soon you’ll have players in terms of owning the responsibility instead of always seeing Cristiano or Nani or the other players from before,” he stated. Luis Nani further expressed how he feels good to see players like these stepping up to carry the legacy of Portugal forward.
The UEFA EURO 2016 victory was indeed a feather in his cap. It was also the time when the former Manchester United star underwent different stints at Fenerbahce, Valencia, Lazio and Sporting CP. Finally, a rather interesting assignment came up for him when MLS outfit Orlando City SC came calling in 2019.
Nani moved to the United States and immediately made an impact for the Eastern Conference side. He led them to the final of MLS is Back tournament in 2020. The Portuguese star also guided them to their first-ever playoffs in the MLS. Unfortunately, the team stumbled in one of the final hurdles against the New England Revolution.
The competition has gained much popularity over the years with many big stars including Andrea Pirlo, David Villa, Steven Gerrard, Kaka, etc. plying their trades. Speaking of his experience in the States so far, Nani said, “It’s a very competitive league. Every team has quality and their level is quite equal. Any team can win and lose in any game and that’s the fun in the league.”
He described how times are even more exciting for MLS with increased number of games, a tight schedule etc. Moreover, with David Beckham coming with his own entity, Inter Miami, the competition has just received a big boost. Former AC Milan star Alexandre Pato too has joined Orlando City recently and it would be a delight to watch him and Nani partner each other in the attack.
The kind of big names that have arrived in the MLS over the years and the general interest shown by European players also resembles to the progress made by the Indian Super League. The seventh season is currently underway with only the final at stake. The popularity of the sport in India has increased many folds over the years, especially with players like Luis Garcia, Alessandro Del Piero, Diego Forlan etc. taking centre stage.
In the final segment of the interaction, Luis Nani also spoke about the ISL, a general perception of the league overseas and his opinion on the progress made so far. “It’s a league which has space to grow. I met some people earlier who offered me to come to India, but I said I was too young,” he revealed.
“They told me that they are investing in the league, making it competitive, bringing in some good players, big names. I was happy and I think you can make a great league with great players and spread the vision for everyone in the world to see,” he added.
“I hear about India a lot, it’s a great country. I've so many friends from there. You guys are lovely people and I think you deserve good football because I know you are very fanatic fans as well,” he concluded with a positive note for the Indian football fans.
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