Manchester United turned in their most convincing display of the season at the weekend against Newcastle, and a certain Portuguese winger was nowhere to be seen. A coincidence?
While Ashley Young joined Manchester United fans in the stands at St James Park, no word was made of Nani's status.
It has left fans perplexed, is he injured, or has he been dropped? He has been largely woeful this season, leaving supporters asking if it was just poor form or sign of a permanent decline.
His contract has less than two years to run, and talks over a new one appear to have broken down. He has over the past month and a half been linked with exits in January, to clubs including Zenit, Porto, Inter Milan and Juventus.
However he did score his first goal of the campaign in his last Premier League match against Tottenham, but it couldn't hide the cracks as the away side exposed his lack of cover tracking back, and he wastefully fired a late chance over the bar.
After being left on the bench against Cluj, he was dropped entirely from the 18, not for the first time this season, it previously happened against Fulham, after a dismal showing against Everton.
So is Nani in the doghouse with Sir Alex Ferguson? United experimented with a new tactical formation, a more introverted set up in midfield, and it could be that the manager decided the player simply didn't fit on Sunday.
With a large squad, not everybody is guaranteed a place in the 18, even if Nani a year ago once was. There is reason to consider, if there was in fact no injury, that Nani could become the latest star to be punished for not signing a new contract.
Look at Theo Walcott's recent benching at Arsenal, and Ferguson's tentative use of Paul Pogba last season. In fact the only reason the Portuguese winger played against Spurs was due to an injury which kept Antonio Valencia out.
Rumours have again surfaced linking the club with potential replacement James Rodriguez from Porto, an exciting player who United fans would no doubt like to take the gamble on, rather than stick with an underperformer.
Nani may come good, but the signs don't look good, and a resolution to his contract situation may be the only way out of his malaise.
The winger posted on Twitter yesterday, his first Tweet for almost a month. And it was quite unintentionally representative of his current status.
At least that football seems like it has had a lot of use. Perhaps he has been practicing his crosses. It seems he literally was in the doghouse, and we suspect regarding his omission, we haven't heard the end of this particular tail. (Sorry).
Why was Nani left out at the weekend? Was it a coincidence United performed better without him, and is he truly in the doghouse?
image: © gordonflood.com
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