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More trouble than they are worth

When you combine goals scored and assists, Nani had his most successful season for Manchester United but was on the bench in the Champions League final. His club's most effective player then, on statistics alone, yet he may well end up elsewhere for next season. If you ignore Glazernomics - sell him for £20 million and replace him with the cheaper Ashley Young - getting rid of the player makes sense. Nani, and there are other examples, is a kind of toxic player that does a side more harm than good.

Nani, a man with a statue in honour of his own existence in his house, scores or assists about thirty goals a season yet hinders his side in a number of ways. His sorry performance against Liverpool (when he cried), started a loss of form to epitomise United's failings.

Jamie Carragher's tackle was a disgrace, which didn't get the ban, and further ban, it deserved, but Nani embodied a new United, who could now be bullied. From the first championship winning side in 1993 until the day Cristiano Ronaldo was sold, United had a swagger that came from the knowledge of technical superiority, but also innate physicality. They could handle a stramash. But their midfield this season, where the game was lost to Barcelona, was so callow at times it was almost non-existent.

Nani's decision-making is clearly not up to scratch. His effectiveness has increased with experience but, for a player of 24, his choices are still teenage. Cristiano Ronaldo often shoots when he should pass, but Ronaldo is an excellent finisher. Nani, on the other hand, takes no account of his limitations and shoots simply because he wants to. He lacks the intelligence to consistently change games. That he was accommodated for so many games this season encouraged a complacency and, when there are such a large amount of young players developing at Old Trafford, he cannot be considered a senior player.

That is why Nani, with defects of indecision and ego, is toxic to Manchester United. Whether Ashley Young is a suitable replacement is academic, because he can't be any worse.

Nani isn't the only case of a key player holding back a side. Thierry Henry is the best example of recent years. A sullen loafer capable of regular genius damaged the confidence of the young team around him, his moodiness chiding emergent players back into the shadows. His ego demanded the ball, but at the same time the knowledge of his own brilliance castigated teammates when they could not get it to him. Such self-regard was inherited by Cesc Fabregas. In his head and heart he plays at the Nou Camp, not as a true captain or leader for Arsenal. If Arsene Wenger was as ruthless as the best managers, he would sell him and replace a nearly-great player with those who have achieved real success. Captaincy does not become Fabregas, but he has the transfer value of at least two or three real men. It's an obvious exchange.

Chelsea remain in thrall to their own talisman of trouble. John Terry, fans' hero, is ripe for shipping out. As inspirational as he used to be, his lists (plural) of transgressions have gone too far. The Wembley box, the stadium tours and the Wayne Bridge episode hardly suggest he is the nicest of chaps. That he said about Guus Hiddink - "I kept in contact on a personal level. That speaks volumes for him" - demonstrates a remarkable self-love and utter lack of awareness. Cynically speaking, he's over thirty and declining already. Chelsea could do their squad's happiness and quality a real favour by selling him sharpish.

The same can also be said for Steven Gerrard. He may throw his weight around the dressing room, yet the 'Liverpool Way' is not served by sixty-yard punts across the field. Fading lungs are linked in tandem to his ability to affect a match. It would serve Kenny Dalglish well to capitalise on a large transfer fee to replace Gerrard with players who can pass consistently and intelligently over ten metres, rather than scoring a fun thirty-yard goal three times a season.

You can see Carlos Tevez repeating his personal cycle now. This is a player committed to stirring up trouble regardless of the notion of decency. Of course, players are more or less free to move, but there has never been a man who plays so cynically to the tribal crowds of footballer. Pretending to be a passionate player with an intimate appreciation of the spectators, yet a month into a season starting rumblings for a transfer? That's simply unpleasant. Anybody who buys him should realise that it's more or less a loan voucher to be redeemed by the next bunch of suitors once he tires of his temporary surroundings.

Manchester United's Champions League final opposition, Barcelona, show the advantage of sacrificing disruptive star players. Samuel Eto'o, a superior player to both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Villa, caused such riotous damage to the training ground spirit alongside his enemy, Ronaldinho, that both were shipped out. Ronaldinho was cast aside for iffy performances as much as a lack of commitment to shifting a gut, but Eto'o remains a great player. However, selling the Cameroon striker was a masterstroke; the sheer happiness now at Barcelona is remarkable.

It has been enough to make a positive of Eric Abidal's illness, win trophies, and strong enough to bind a Spanish team into winning the World Cup. Even with two truly dislikeable players in Sergio Busquets and Dani Alves, Barcelona are strong because the players themselves don't wish to swap black eyes.

In essence, Barcelona have proved that in football at least, nice guys don't always finish last.

• Alexander Netherton is editor of Surreal Football


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