Few players on Planet Football can claim to know Cristiano Ronaldo quite as well as Nani. “We´ve got loads of shared history,” said Valencia’s Portuguese attacker. “We’ve spent half our lives together! He’s a bit like a big brother to me.” Nani and Ronaldo share a starting point, with both being products of Sporting Lisbon’s fabled youth system, in addition to a successful spell together at Manchester United and a host of games side-by-side for Portugal.
For that reason, who better to talk to us about A Selecção das Quinas’ captain who is, alongside Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann, on the shortlist for The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2016, the winner of which will be revealed on 9 January 2017 at a ceremony held in Zurich.
For Nani, there can be no doubt as to who deserves to win the award, with Ronaldo being able to point to victory in the UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup with Real Madrid and UEFA EURO 2016 with Portugal, a competition in which Valencia’s summer signing also played a crucial role. “I say that not because he’s a friend, nor because he’s a national team colleague. Nor is it because I’m Portuguese. It’s because it’s the truth: this year he’s been the best,” said Nani, clearly thoroughly convinced.
“He’s been a real ‘great’ who’s stood out above everybody else and for that reason he’d deserve to win the best player award. Let’s see what happens, but I’m sure that he’ll be the one that wins.”
Last July the pair shared one of the biggest moments of their respective careers: helping Portugal win their first ever senior European Championship. As Nani mentioned in a recent interview with FIFA.com: “The European title is the most important one [I’ve won in my career] and the one that means the most, because it was with the national team.”
Illustrating their synergy, those words were similar to the ones uttered by Ronaldo after the final in Paris, speaking to Nani and his Portugal colleagues: “Forget about the individual trophies, the Champions Leagues… this here is the happiest moment of my life.”
This just a couple of hours after the pair had been involved in a “very sad” scene, when the injured Ronaldo hobbled off the pitch in the final against France and handed the captain’s armband to his good friend. CR7 would later thank Nani for his support and effort during the competition by gifting him the tournament’s Silver Boot award, given the pair had scored the same number of goals. “It was a very kind gesture and I was very touched.”
A gesture befitting a ‘big brother’ - though Ronaldo is just one year Nani’s senior - who is happy to step in, lend a hand and smooth the path. Just as he did when, after Nani signed for United in 2007, Ronaldo invited him to stay at his house to help the settling-in process.
And just like any siblings, they do not always see eye-to-eye. “We know each other really well,” explained Nani. “We’ve got different personalities and sometimes we clash a little bit. We talk, we argue, but we know where our limits are – we know how far to take things and that we’re always able to talk things through. We respect each other a lot.”
Come 9 January, Nani will be the one keeping an eye out for Ronaldo, hoping that he is handed the coveted award for The Best FIFA Men’s Player. And should he win, Nani will no doubt bursting with pride to see his ‘big brother’, one with whom he has shared so much, back on top of the world.