In a massive boost ahead of the 2022/23 A-League Men season, Kick360 understands that Melbourne Victory are close to reaching an agreement to sign former Manchester United star Nani as a marquee player after rumours surfaced last month of the parties being in talks.
Capped 112 times for Portugal, Nani is a dynamic and skilful winger with the capacity to get fans off their seats with his nonchalant dribbling and quick feet. While most famously known for his tenure in Manchester, Nani’s time in Europe spanned over 14 years as he featured prominently for Sporting CP, Fenerbahçe, Valencia and Lazio before securing a lucrative move to Major League Soccer outfit Orlando City in 2019.
The accomplished star was named an All-Star in two of his three seasons in the United States before returning to Europe with Serie A side Venezia last season. Nani has also been named in a PFA Premier League Team of the Year and once recorded the most assists in a Premier League season while at Manchester United.
Manager Tony Popović sees the 35-year-old as the missing piece in the puzzle for his side who narrowly missed out on the Premiers Plate before they were astonishingly bundled out of the finals after an error-strewn display against eventual Champions Western United.
Nani is likely to replace Marco Rojas as the club’s second marquee player next season as the future of the Kiwi remains unknown following the conclusion of his contract with Melbourne Victory at the end of this month. At the time of writing he is yet to sign an extension with the 2021 Australia Cup winners. Chris Ikonomidis is expected to remain a marquee player after signing a lucrative three-year deal with the Victorian powerhouses at the start of last season.
A four-time Premier League Champion and UEFA Champions League winner with the Red Devils, Nani will add a sense of experience and winning mentality to Victory’s youthful attack that, last season, was shouldered by Johnny Warren medallist Jake Brimmer and Socceroos Nick D’Agostino and Ben Folami. While the graduate of Sporting’s famed youth academy is versatile and can play anywhere across the front three – or even behind a more traditional centre-forward – he is most likely to be used out wide by Popović.
The signing of Nani also represents a major coup for the A-Leagues and the APL who have signalled their intent to bring recognisable names to Australia with a list of 35 “world-class” potential marquees. The gradual incorporation of two ‘designated players’ – who can be paid anywhere between $300-600k outside the cap – in addition to the well-established allowance for two salary cap-exempt ‘marquee players’ gives clubs greater flexibility when allocating funds to sign these players.
This increased scope to manoeuvre and manipulate the demands of the cap could facilitate further big-name signatures in the off-season to accompany Nani and newly-crowned Brisbane Roar signing Charlie Austin.
Despite his struggles with injury, Perth’s signing of Daniel Sturridge gives credence to the notion that marquees provide the A-Leagues with a necessary injection of enthusiasm as the former Liverpool star almost single-handedly attracted a crowd of over 17,000 people to his first game in Australia.
As league-wide average attendances hit a record-low during the last campaign, the A-Leagues will be hoping that Nani, along with a few fellow stars, can help to avenge these lowly numbers and restore some faith and liveliness to Australia’s domestic competition.