For Nani, coming to Major League Soccer was a challenge years in the making.
“In the last couple years some teams…approached me to try to bring me to MLS, but I didn’t feel it was the time,” Nani said at his introductory press conference at Orlando City Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. “Orlando arrived in the right moment.”
The Portuguese winger was enjoying one of the best seasons of his career at his boyhood club Sporting CP, scoring seven goals and notching four assists in just 18 games in Portugal’s top flight. But the chance to come to the United States and help bring Orlando City to its first-ever postseason berth was too much to pass up.
“I was doing very well at Sporting, I was happy there, but I like the challenge, I like the opportunity to be part of this project in Orlando,” said Nani. “MLS has been improving in the last [few] years, and they gave me the conditions to show my football to this big country. In Orlando I see the club is growing up. They have a beautiful project and a future. They want to be a championship team, a team who competes to win, so that’s why I was very excited to come and to join this project.”
Nani was officially unveiled as Orlando City’s newest designated player on Monday, with details released throughout the day on the club’s social media channels. Orlando City EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi was thrilled to introduce the club’s newest star.
“A guy like Nani who has won everything, has won a number of international titles, has had a career across a number of clubs,” said Muzzi. “[He] has conquered the world with Manchester United, with the Portuguese national team, and above all [is] a great person, a great human being, who has the pleasure and the joy in playing the game.”
Nani has won an astonishing 16 trophies in his storied career, including four English Premier League championships and the 2008 UEFA Champions League title with Manchester United. He also played a key role during Portugal’s shocking run to the Euro 2016 title, playing 120 minutes in Portugal’s thrilling victory over current FIFA World Cup champion France in the final.
In his seven seasons at Manchester United from 2007-2014, Nani was among the most productive players at a club that featured the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, and Dimitar Berbatov, racking up 40 goals and 73 assists in 230 appearances in all competitions. Incredibly, Nani has remained equally productive since leaving Old Trafford, with his goals and assists per 90 minutes increasing every full season he’s played since 2014.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Orlando City head coach James O’Connor did not hide his excitement at being able to deploy a player of Nani’s caliber. “I think the biggest thing for us is when you have somebody that has this amount of quality is trying to put him in the most effective areas to show his quality,” explained O’Connor. “He’s a world-class player who’s had an incredible career, so I think for us we need to be very sensible in how we approach utilizing his skillset and try to maximize the opportunity that we have once we have a player like that.”
Nani will be presented to the Orlando City fans for the first time on Wednesday night prior to the Lions’ match against New England Revolution in the Orlando City Invitational. Muzzi said he is hopeful Nani will be available for Orlando City’s debut on March 2 against New York City FC at Orlando City Stadium.
“He conquered the world in many different places,” said Muzzi. “Now it’s time to conquer America.”