By Jullian Sardana (@JullianSardana)
As Melbourne Victory emerged 3-2 victors in their first game of the season against perennial adversaries Sydney FC, one man’s name was the preferred refrain for the chorus of away supporters that descended onto Allianz Stadium.
Despite being kept relatively quiet for the opening hour of the match, Melbourne Victory’s prized marquee recruit Nani assuaged any fears that he would not be able to perform on a cold, rainy night in Sydney as he mercifully delivered a perfectly placed cross into the path of Chris Ikonomidis who viciously fired home to take the lead as the heavens opened in Sydney.
That moment of quality alone painted a succinct yet poignant picture of why the Melbourne giants were so keen to bring the Manchester United legend to their club. The pride of Melbourne Victory’s 1300-strong turnout in Sydney was palpable as they sang his name after the game.
Speaking to Melbourne-based media in the days after the match, Nani joyfully expressed the enjoyment that he experienced while playing his first A-League minutes in a Victory shirt.
“It was really amazing,” he said.
“For the first game, we’ve been talking a lot and I think everyone was excited for the beginning of the season.”
Emotions were sky-high after the tantalising victory against their Sky Blue rivals as fans were given a unique insight into Nani and his Melbourne Victory teammates whose dancing and singing stole the headlines on social media after the match.
“That was a derby result and win you the derby you need to celebrate.
“[It] was a very tough game, [with] a lot of goals.
“It would be spectacular for the fans, I hope and I think they enjoyed.
“I hope we can have more games like that.”
Having played alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney during his eight-year tenure at the Red Devils, Nani has trained with some of the world’s best players and is already said to be lifting the training standards for his new teammates.
Exposure to one of world football’s longest off-seasons has also provided Nani with the opportunity to bond with Victory’s fellow stars but also act as a point of call for youngsters looking to hone their craft. Despite the elongated pre-season, Nani believes that it will take some time before his team reaches maximum functionality as they look to improve after every passing fixture.
“Yes, we’ve been improving our game with training sessions [and] I think everyone improved during the pre-season,” he said.
“The coach has been pushing very hard on us.
“The more games we will play, the more we will put everything [we] want on the field.”
Looking ahead to his first home game against the Western Sydney Wanderers, the 112-time Portuguese international is maintaining his concentration and ensuring that he can continue to produce the goods in the final third for Tony Popović’s side. Nani is expected to be greeted by a cacophony of noise as a healthy crowd is set to descend onto AAMI Park to welcome Victory’s new marquee signing.
“I prefer to [stay] focus on me [and] what I can do,” Nani explained.
“I’m focused on working hard and [being] able to give my 100 per cent for the team.”
The Western Sydney Wanderers will provide Melbourne Victory with a stern and rugged test as they face off against Popović’s side on Saturday night at 7:45pm. Nani will certainly hope to hear a familiar refrain after the whistle on Saturday night as he and his teammates look to kickstart Melbourne Victory’s title charge at AAMI Park.