Optimism abounds around the grounds of Orlando City Stadium, and for good reason — Luis Nani is officially a Lion and today marked his first “day in the office.”
The Lions’ new No. 17 is expected to make an immediate impact both on and off the field, as his natural role as a leader will prove vital to success after an abysmal 2018 season. Not only will his leadership benefit the club’s players, staff, and supporters, but his preferred role as an attacking winger with a strong knack for holdup play and taking on defenders could be the difference between another depressing year and the club’s first-ever MLS playoff appearance.
With Nani’s arrival set in stone and his boots on the training grounds, today also marked the 32-year-old Portuguese icon’s first press conference as a Lion at Orlando City Stadium. Let’s dissect that presser and take a bit of a dive into what we could expect from the club’s newest addition.
This wasn’t a deal that’s been negotiated for very long. It was just one month ago that the process began.
“I don’t think this was something that was going on before I arrived,” said OCSC Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi said. “It came to my attention — I would say the possibility was like maybe a month, a month and a half ago when we started working on it. Of course it’s not something simple. It’s not something that you just make a phone call and it’s done. It took me a little bit of time to get it all done. We were able to move it forward because of the goodwill of a lot of people and because of the wish of the player.”
For such an important signing to be closed, privately, over such a short duration of time highlights just how highly the club viewed the Portuguese winger. It also shows that the club’s ambitions are as high as ever, with Nani easily the most notable name on the roster. The marquee signing has everyone excited, especially Nani, who looks forward to being a part of what he described as a “beautiful project” here in Orlando.
Nani emphasized that Major League Soccer has taken tremendous strides in growth and quality, and said he feels that he left his former club, Sporting CP, at just the right time, having just recently claimed the domestic Taça da Liga Cup in Portugal. He also captained his former side to a fourth-place finish — good enough to qualify Sporting for the Europa League.
“My feeling told me it was the time to move on,” Nani said. “I was doing very well at Sporting. I was happy there, but as I said, I like the challenge. I like the opportunity to be part of this project in Orlando. Orlando gave me an opportunity to have a new dream.”
Nani made sure to express that artificial turf will be no hindrance to his availability either, despite his unfamiliarity with the surface.
“We are footballers and we adapt to anything. It will not be a problem for me,” he said.
That’s good to hear, because it was a fear for some supporters. Nani confidently stated that he is still able to play at the highest levels.
Bringing in a Winner
Orlando City clearly wanted to bring in a player with experience winning, which Nani has done in his career with four EPL titles and a Champions League crown among his accomplishments. Muzzi described the newest Lion as a guy “who has won everything, has won a number of titles, international titles. He’s had a career across a number of clubs. He’s conquered the world with Manchester United, with the Portuguese National Team, and, above all, a great person, a great human being who has the pleasure and joy of playing the game. A player in the prime of his career that has chosen MLS and has chosen Orlando City as the next step and the next challenge in his career. As I said, he conquered the world in many different places, and now it’s time to conquer America.”
Happy to Be Here
Nani said multiple times he was looking forward to integrating with the team and working toward winning trophies.
“I play to win. I play to compete. I play to achieve big things,” he said. “And this was all my life, in my career, I’ve been giving all my best (for) every team. And of course, I will always like to win trophies, and Orlando (has) given me a chance to have a new dream, to continue to believe I can perform at the high level. MLS has been improving in the last years, and they’ve given me the conditions to show my football to this big country. In Orlando, I see the team, the club, is growing up. They have a beautiful project in the future. They want to be a championship team, a team to compete to win. That’s why I was very excited to come and join this club.”
Availability to Play
Muzzi said the club is still awaiting Nani’s work visa and his International Transfer Certificate but was optimistic that the paperwork would arrive in time for the Portuguese winger to be available to play come the start of the 2019 MLS regular season. The club’s EVP of Soccer Operations also said that getting below the three-DP limit would be “easy” for Orlando and that Targeted Allocation Money would be used to get there. As we’ve previously reported, The Mane Land sources say that Sacha Kljestan’s DP-level contract will be bought down with TAM to achieve that.
Nani will be introduced to the fans tomorrow, after Orlando City’s warm-ups prior to the Orlando City Invitational match against the New England Revolution.
Working with a Top Quality Player
“I’m obviously very excited to work with Nani,” Head Coach James O’Connor said. “I’d like to welcome Nani to Orlando. I’m sure you’re going to be a thriving success and so I think for us, as a football club, it’s very, very exciting and we’re genuinely really, really pleased to welcome a player of this quality to our club.”
O’Connor said that he had yet to coach a player of Nani’s caliber, although he had played with a few guys at that level in the past.
Nani touched on the fact that he reached out to the Lions’ first-ever captain and Brazilian legend Kaká to get his opinion and thank him for his support. The two have not met, apparently, but Nani said he looks forward to meeting a man he views as a “fantastic person” and “world class footballer.”
Taking on a Leadership Role
O’Connor said he intends to pick the brain of his new signing, noting that the club’s current construction includes several young, promising players that will benefit from having a globally established leader guiding them. Whether or not the former Sporting captain is handed the Lions’ armband is yet to be decided, but there’s no doubting the fact that he will be looked to for leadership.
“His leadership will be something we’ll be able to utilize,” said O’Connor.
“I had some teams in the past approach me to try to bring me to MLS or other countries, but I didn’t feel it was the time,” Nani stated. “At this time, Orlando arrived in the right moment. I’m a person who feels my feelings, and my feeling told me it was the time to move on.”
The question was asked if the addition of Nani was the final move for the Lions before the season begins, and no concrete answer was truly provided. Muzzi stopped short of saying the team was complete, but said the club was happy with the off-season and with the players on the roster, and “extremely happy with the culture and the way the players have worked with each other.”
O’Connor stated that, ideally, the roster is complete when “we win the MLS.” He added, “I think we’re pretty close to where we need to be.”
What did you take away from the press conference? Let us know in the comments section below!