ORLANDO, Fla. — The way Nani sees it, Orlando City is giving him the opportunity to do what he’s wanted to do his entire career.
Nani views Orlando City as a new place to compete and — above everything else — a new place to win. The winger, who was born in Cape Verde and represents the Portugal national team, was officially introduced as Orlando City’s new designated player on Monday, making Central Florida the latest stop for the former Manchester United star.
“I play to win,” Nani said during a press conference Tuesday at Orlando City Stadium. “I play to compete. I play to achieve big things. All my life and my career, I’ve been giving all my best [with] every team that I’ve passed. Of course, I’ve always liked to win trophies.
“Orlando gives me a chance and an opportunity to have a new dream. To continue to believe I can perform at a high level. MLS has been improving in the last years and they gave me the conditions to show my football to this country. In Orlando, I see the team, the club, as growing up. They have a beautiful project.”
Nani, who spoke in English during his entire intro press conference, said he had other offers to join MLS, but he wasn’t ready to make the move before Orlando City approached him. Nani played with Manchester United from 2007 until 2014. After that, he was sent to Portugal’s Sporting CP and then played for Turkish side Fenerbahçe, Valencia in La Liga and Italian Serie A side SS Lazio before returning to Sporting in July 2018.
Nani was signed on a free transfer from Sporting.
“In the past had, in the last couple of years, some teams, some people who approached me to try to bring me to MLS [and] other countries,” he said. “I didn’t feel it was the time. At this time, Orlando arrived, I think, at the right moment. I’m a person who feels my feelings, my feelings told me it was the time to move on. I was doing very well at Sporting, I was happy there. I like the challenge, I like the opportunity to be part of this project in Orlando.”
Orlando City executive vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi said the deal to get Nani to Orlando City was product of “the good will of a lot of people and because of the wish of the player.”
Muzzi also said the team is working on getting Nani’s work visa and International Transfer Certificate and that “hopefully” the new winger will be able to play in the first game.
“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,” Muzzi said. “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.”
Nani said he’s ready for the challenges of MLS — including the grueling travel that comes with an MLS season. He added he’s not used to playing on artificial turf that is featured in several MLS stadiums, but he’ll adapt.
“I think it will not be a problem for me,” he said with a laugh.
His current plan differs than many other veteran international players, who have opted to sit out matches to avoid the extra wear and tear on their knees that goes with playing on artificial turf.
Orlando City now has four designated players on its roster. The maximum allowed under MLS rules is three. Muzzi said he’s confident the team will be able to get roster-compliant before the start of the season. According to the MLS Players’ Association, all three of Orlando City’s current DPs earn less than the compensation ceiling for Targeted Allocation Money players, which is $1,504,375, so any of them could be converted into TAM players to free up the a designated player spot for Nani.
“That’s actually going to be very, very easy,” Muzzi said. “We’re going to have to use some TAM, but it’s a very easy conversion. It’s automatic. We don’t have to go through any complicated processes because of the way our current DPs are on the salary cap, specifically. It’s a very, very easy conversion. We can actually pick the one we want to convert to TAM.”
Coach James O’Connor said he’s never coached a player of Nani’s caliber, but he played with a couple during his playing days. O’Connor called Nani a “world-class” player and said he’s looking to maximize the winger’s talents. He said Nani could also mentor some of the team’s younger players.
Nani is the latest addition in a roster overall that has seen 15 players jettisoned from last season’s team and 13 players added.
“If I’m being honest, I think everyone wants to say something is ‘complete,'” O’Connor said when asked if the Lions were done with their offseason roster overhaul. “It’ll be complete when we bring an MLS championship. I think that’s when it’s complete. I think, for us, we’re always looking. You’re always looking at ways to improve your squad.
“We had the opportunity to obviously bring someone of Nani’s quality in … and I have to give Luiz tremendous credit for the amount of work that he did. The travel involved, he went through a lot to make this happen. The support of [team owner] Flávio [Augusto da Silva] and [CEO] Alex [Leitão] have given to bring somebody of this caliber here is fantastic.”
But will there be any more players added?
“When I look at the rest of the squad as regards to where we are, I think we’re pretty close to where we need to be,” O’Connor said.