SANFORD, Fla. — It took more than one conversation to bring former Manchester United star Nani to Orlando City.
In fact, an in-person visit from Orlando City executive vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi, a dinner and a gut feeling from Nani himself are what brought the Portuguese international to Central Florida from Sporting CP.
“So, when you start talking, you start saying that things are good here,” Muzzi told Pro Soccer USA. “Look at the league. Look at the everything. Look at how things are getting better and better here. Then, you hang up and then you talk again. Then I made the trip to Portugal. We sat down face to face.”
“He’s just a simple, humble kind of good person. At the end of the day, I think that’s what happened there. You know, that conversation was like, ‘You know, we feel like we’re really comfortable here. We feel like there’s a human connection.’ It’s not only the money. It’s not only the … whatever it is. It’s like, you feel good about it.”
So far, things have worked out well. Nani leads Orlando City (3-3-3, 12 points) with five goals and four assists and has scored at least one goal in each of his last four matches. He’s one of only two players in MLS with five goals and at least four assists, the other being LAFC star Carlos Vela.
The Lions are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
The jolt he has provided to Orlando City’s once dormant attack has led many to suggest he was the top MLS signing of the offseason.
Nani was signed on a free transfer from Sporting. He said he had other offers in the past to join MLS and other leagues, but at that point, it wasn’t the right time.
“He actually said it. He said, ‘I go a lot with my gut, right? I feel like there is something here that is really, really good and I feel it.’ So, all in all, it’s not a one-off,” Muzzi said about his meeting with Nani. “It’s a conversation that we kept having. Multiple conversations. But I think that sitting face-to-face, having a couple meetings there, we went out to dinner, that’s what made it.”
When Nani first addressed reporters, he said signing with Orlando City represented a new opportunity for him to win.
“They want to be a champion team,” Nani said. “A team who competes to win. So that’s why I was very excited to come and to join this project.”
Before the start of the season, Muzzi said Nani was a player who could become the face of the franchise. Coach James O’Connor and Muzzi have taken a team-first approach to the season, but Nani’s cachet is such that he could command attention.
“Yeah, he could be the face of the franchise, but I want the face of the franchise to be the team,” Muzzi said. “It’s the team, but he’s a big name and a big name is always the face of the franchise. We’ve got some other big names here. Those guys, maybe they’re going to go somewhere where… Nani has already been in those places, right? So he already has that experience and that’s why he can be the face of the franchise right now.
“I think more than anything, it’s the team, it’s the group that’s going to be the face of the franchise.”
City CEO Alex Leitão said Nani fills of the characteristics of what club was looking for in a player in the offseason.
“A lot of talent,” Leitão told Pro Soccer USA. “He can score goals, he can participate in goals.”
He added, “The guy’s still in his prime. Great, great player and, as well, [he’s] a great leader and he will be very good for the other players.”