NANI'S dislocated shoulder may have KO'd the United winger for the start of the season but his Wembley impact on Sunday suggests he could give his critics the cold shoulder.
The Portuguese winger is among a pack of flank men jostling for Sir Alex Ferguson's eye and hoping to be handed the regular run that will give the recipient of Fergie's vote the opportunity to prove that the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era will not be strewn with failed contenders.
The £80m boots are waiting to be filled with Nani, £15m summer capture Antonio Valencia and Zoran Tosic the main candidates to be the ex-number seven's permanent heir.
Nani made his debut for the Reds in the 2007 Community Shield against Chelsea. Two years on and in the same fixture last Sunday the 22-year-old walked down the Wembley tunnel still with as much if not more to prove as he had on day one.
But his hour-long show below the arch, before he was unceremoniously carted off with his shoulder in a makeshift sling, was an impressive reminder that his potential can still be realised at Old Trafford.
Much of the good money at the end of the season was on the belief that Nani had had his chances to cement a long term future at Old Trafford and had blown those opportunities leaving the exit door wide open for him and a summer departure inevitable.
But with the campaign coming to a close Fergie promised in public that the winger would remain in his squad and get better. The Reds boss has been as good as his word and if the player returns from this early injury setback showing the form that had tormented Chelsea right back Branislav Ivanovic in the first 45 minutes in London then Nani may well keep his part of the bargain.
Ex-Old Trafford winger Mickey Thomas admits that he was a victim of the pressures of the Old Trafford stage in the late 1970s and saw similar traits strangling Nani's attempts to prove his worth.
Thomas voluntarily escaped the nightmare but believes Nani could still win the mental battle.
"To be brutally honest I have felt over the two seasons he has been at the club Nani has shown the signs that the Old Trafford stage could be too big for him," Mickey told M.E.N. Sport.
"I know exactly how he felt. I experienced it and it is hard to conquer. Some players are made for United and the spotlight. They revel in it. Some just cannot hack it and never will come to terms with it. Others struggle with it but then learn to cope and grow into it.
"Nani could come into the latter category. There is no doubt the potential is there. He has good technique and can score goals. His performance at Wembley was certainly encouraging. That shows he can do it and you hope it helped him to convince himself he can do it on a regular basis.
"The bottom line is that this is a big season for him. If it is true that he is just one of those players who needed a bit more time to come to terms with life at Old Trafford then this is the season when he has to prove he is over that. You don't tend to get much longer than three years to prove yourself. If it is going to happen then it is going to happen in that time.
"Of course, the shoulder injury is a blow but you would hope that while he is nursing that Nani will realise his performance at Wembley proves he can cope with the big stages and he will have the opportunity again soon to prove it.
"He cannot help but be boosted by the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson named him in his starting XI for the Community Shield a week before the Premier League season starts. Seeing his name on the team sheet against Chelsea proves that his manager has belief in him and that the chance is there for him.
"It seems to be all about confidence with him and once he gets over his injury Sunday's effort should give him that.
"People have got to forget about a replacement for Ronaldo. It is impossible for anyone to replace him and it is always going to pile extra pressure on any player who is looked upon in that way.
"It is not going to do anyone any good. Nani has been in Cristiano's shadow all the time he has been at the club. He doesn't need it now he's gone.
"But without comparing him to Ronaldo there is no doubt Nani has got spectacular goals in his locker and the ability to win you games out of the blue.
"Nani has had a lot of critics in his time in England but the best way to answer them is by your performances. He has not done that consistently for one reason or another. But this season could be his big opportunity."