Nani MLS can compete with European leagues to attract the biggest stars at their peak
Former Orlando City star Nani has told ESPN that Major League Soccer has the potential to be a “really strong” competition which one day could even serve as an alternative to Europe for players at their peak.
A former Champions League winner with Manchester United and European Championship winner with Portugal, Nani signed a three-year Designated Player deal with Orlando ahead of the 2019 season and scored 31 goals in 88 appearances in all competitions with the franchise.
He also captained Orlando in their first-ever playoff appearance, a penalty shootout victory over New York City FC in the 2020 MLS Cup playoffs.
The 35-year-old left for then-Serie A side Venezia after his contract was completed in the European transfer window in January but was unable to help the side avoid relegation to the end of the campaign.
The signing of big-name stars over 30 has been and remains a notable part of America’s top flight – the recent arrivals of Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini at LAFC – and the league’s five highest salaries all belong to players on the wrong side of 30.
– Lynch: Nani will bring the MLS mentality to the A-League
– Football on ESPN+: FC Daily | Futbol Americas
– You don’t have ESPN? Access immediately
But with average attendance reported above 20,000 this season, with 28-year-old Italy international Federico Bernardeschi leaving Juventus to sign with Toronto FC, and MLS sides increasingly raking in transfer fees from European clubs, he there are signs of change.
And speaking to ESPN, Nani said there was potential for the league to grow as a potential destination for players who would otherwise only have considered Europe.
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” he told ESPN. “But you can see that in the last two years they have improved a lot. That’s why a lot of European players change their minds and come to MLS early.
“They have a lot of good conditions. Good stadiums, good facilities. So they change their minds about the sport.
“They are investing a lot for the next two years. I think in the future, yes, there is the possibility of being very strong in football.”
Nani, however, believes the league needs to ensure there is a level of balance in its dealings in the international market as more and more players become available.
The former Manchester United star hopes to see his former team-mate for club and country stay at Old Trafford after the Red Devils’ promising summer.
“Getting more players in all positions,” he said. “Defenders, goalkeepers. Not just buying forwards and midfielders. They need to have players in all positions.
“But I think now the level is very good and you can see that work has been done over the last two years.”
Nani has since signed a two-year contract with A-League Men, who power Melbourne Victory, as part of the Australian competition’s own strategy of attracting top players to the league in a bid to generate publicity and arouse the interest of fans. significantly less advanced approach than that adopted by the MLS.
He has quickly become one of the faces of the league’s upcoming season, which kicks off for Victory against rivals Sydney FC in a ‘Big Blue’ game on October 8.
“I worked hard to adapt to the new city, the new country and the time difference,” he said. “[The time difference is] big. It was the hardest part. But now I think everything is fine, I feel very good.
“The players, the team, they welcomed me very well and helped me settle in very quickly and feel confident around the team and the club. I’m delighted with what’s to come. “