The great and the good of Manchester United’s golden years have shared many stories about what Sir Alex Ferguson was like behind the scenes – the man behind the mastermind that oversaw an unprecedented era of success at Old Trafford.
But remarkably, it is Nani who is perhaps uniquely placed to talk about the legendary coach – given that they were once neighbors while the Portuguese winger played for United from 2007 up to 2015.
The 35-year-old – now playing in Australia with Melbourne Victory – made the admission in an appearance on old United team-mate Rio Ferdinand’s Vibe with Five YouTube channel.
Nani (bottom left) told Rio Ferdinand about living next door to Sir Alex Ferguson at United
The duo had a good relationship but Nani endured an awkward moment after a game at Fulham
Nani took a penalty off Ryan Giggs, missed it and United were held to a 2-2 draw by Fulham
‘Cristiano Ronaldo left and I had more communication with the boss, I felt more important. He started to talk more to me, we felt closer – he is even my neighbor, sometimes I took him home and we would talk in the car,’ Nani said.
‘Woah woah woah,’ Ferdinand interjected. ‘Sorry, Nani – I forgot this! We used to kill Nani! He was neighbor of the boss – he used to get in his car after away games and the boss would be in the passenger seat! Can you imagine?
‘We used to call them father and son! Anything to get in the team, Nani was doing!’.
Ferdinand may have joked that being neighbors helped Nani, but it wasn’t always a useful thing.
In 2010, United drew 2-2 against Fulham at Craven Cottage. At 1-0 down, Nani came on and when United got a penalty, he took the ball off Ryan Giggs – and missed.
‘Giggs was there with the ball, I pulled Giggs aside, took the ball and I missed the penalty,’ Nani explained, shaking his head. ‘My goodness.
It finished 2-2 and it was supposed to finish 3-2 for us with that penalty. We came inside the dressing room and straight away, first of all he kills Giggsy. “Giggsy, with your experience, what the hell are you doing?”.
Giggsy was like “he wanted to take the penalty, I let him take it”. And then he finished with Giggsy, turns to me. “Nani! You’re never going to take a penalty again!”
And then we went home. We arrived in Macclesfield and the gaffer lives next to me. He was asking “anyone live in Wilmslow?”. I was looking round like “I don’t want to take him!”. Someone said “Nani you live in Wilmslow, yeah? Can you take the boss?”
‘So I took him in my car and for at least two minutes we were just looking straight, we didn’t talk. And then I was like “boss, sorry for the penalty”. He was like “no son, it’s ok. You should take it a little bit stronger, in the corner”. And when he said that… ahhh.’
Nani had to drive Ferguson home after the game – but the United boss put his mind at ease
Ferdinand joked that the United team would call Nani and Ferguson ‘father and son’
Intriguingly, however, Nani doesn’t think Ferguson would necessarily react angrily to the current United squad after its two defeats this season, the most recent of which was a 4-0 defeat by Brentford.
‘He could do two things,’ Nani said. ‘Say nothing and act like the next game, it will change a lot. And every player will think that week “oh the manager is angry, not saying anything, who is going to play?” And then everyone is fighting on the field.
Or he would shout at everyone, pointing to the responsibility of each player. I prefer the first one, it makes the players think.’
Nani was also asked about his Portuguese compatriot Ronaldo and reports that his presence in the United dressing room is having a negative impact.
‘Cristiano is not a kid anymore, times change,’ Nani said. ‘The reactions and attitude can change as well. But as we see, he does the same things as usual – he doesn’t like to lose. He reacts when the team is not doing well.
It’s a different time, he’s playing again at United but he’s been around the world doing well. He’s at a team where the manager is trying to build a strong team, but Cristiano doesn’t have time to lose on building teams or waiting for the next season.
‘He wants to continue to be at the top, scoring goals, being the man. But that’s why the reaction is normal, we all have the wrong reaction some time.’