Anderson’s recent showings give us much reason to be optimistic
“The Nani of centre-midfield,” I’ve heard some label the enigmatic Anderson. In fairness, you can see where they are coming from – he has the ability to amaze and frustrate in equal measure however, like Nani, the talent and potential is clearly there. Recently, Anderson has pulled out what many would recognise as ‘coming of age performances’; against Everton he was sensational dictating the play like the midfielder we all so very much want him to be and against Schalke on Wednesday night, he scored his first ever brace for United doubling his total goal tally for the Reds in a matter of minutes.
Despite this being Anderson’s fourth season at the club and the fact that the Brazillian has yet to pull out performances of the like that I have mentioned on a consistent basis, I still view United’s number eight as an extremely exciting prospect. In a sense, he is the only centre-midfielder who hasn’t got a defensive bone in his body, when he gets the ball he wants to turn and run with it. It’s difficult not to love a midfielder who drives the team forward and Anderson does that – and the fact that he plays with a smile on his face with typical Brazilian exuberance that, intriguingly, we have not seen much of at Old Trafford despite our rich history of international players. Now I’m not churlish enough to suggest that this is all it takes for Anderson to become a mainstay in the United midfield, of course not; his passing must be more accurate, more often and without doubt he needs to chip in with more goals – if Anderson can add a steady goal input to his game akin to Nani it will improve his all round game massively.
I’ve mentioned his passing and his goal scoring; both are crucial elements to the game of an attacking midfielder which at (and in the case of goals most of the) times in Anderson’s United career have deserted him. For him to make it, he must possess sound quality in both these attributes. For me, however, he’s without doubt got it in him but there are two reasons why he has not been able to turn his glimpses of brilliances into regular starts:
1) The first is his positioning, up until recently Sir Alex had opted to play Anderson in a more deeper position, not deep but deeper. He’d have a Carrick behind him and a Scholes alongside him, this way Michael Carrick or United’s defender’s would mop up and feed Anderson or Scholes, who would then rely on sound distribution and find the flair players of the likes of Ronaldo and Rooney.
In a recent interview, Brazil legend Carlos Alberto suggested that the reason why the Old Trafford faithful had not seen the best of the twenty-three year old was because he would be more effective playing in a free role. Alberto went on to say that when Anderson played in Brazil and in Portugal with Porto, he was much more effective and a more potent attacking outlet than he is currently at Old Trafford. The statistics would seem to confirm this. At Gremio, Anderson’s first club, he scored nine in thirty-one and at Porto he notched three in twenty five. It’s hardly in Lionel Messi’s league but it doesn’t have to be, but when compared with his four in one hundred and twenty eight at United, it makes for interesting reading. Goals aren’t everything, but his lack of them suggests that he has struggled, to an extent.
Despite being an Anderson fan at the beginning of his Old Trafford career, I was frustrated by his appeared unwillingness to make late runs into the box. Having been brought up watching Paul Scholes giving a master class in late runs, this is what I wanted to see from the man billed as ‘Scholes’ replacement’. However, what I did not realise at the time was that Anderson had in effect been shackled and could only make sporadic forward runs for fear of being caught out of position. I don’t blame Ferguson for this as he clearly knows Anderson’s talents better than any of us, he watched him for over a year and half before signing him and sees him every day in training, so it’s not as if Sir Alex was ignorant of where Anderson has always played, more that the player must adapt to United and not the other way around.
The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo gave Ferguson the chance to experiement with various ways of playing Anderson and in recent weeks the decision to push Anderson forward has been vindicated – his late foraging runs into the box against Schalke had me smiling like a school boy in the Stretford End! However, this begs the question that, if Ronaldo left in June 2009 and Anderson has finally begun to show consistent form in April 2011, what has he been doing for the past two years? Well; this leads me nicely on to my second point.
2) The second is consistency, or rather, the lack of it. Many often forget that Anderson has had a torrid time with injuries since his arrival from the Algarve, not on an Owen Hargreaves scale but enough to disrupt his development. His first two seasons were disrupted by small niggling injuries as his body grew accustomed to the heavier demands of English football and often caused him to miss games. In his third campaign, he missed a large portion of the season with cruciate ligament damage; a factor that also caused him to miss pre-season. Pre-season is often undervalued by many fans as pointless friendlies, yet United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recently spoke about how crucial it is to a player’s season and that they are of detriment if they do not take part in it. You only have to look at players like Rooney who has without doubt suffered without having the guided fitness programme provided by United’s fitness staff in the summer months. Anderson tops the lot, though. In a recent interview, he said one thing he was looking forward to was getting a proper pre-season under his belt as, unbelievably since joining United, he hasn’t had one. His first in 07/08 was disrupted by injury, his second was replaced by playing for Brazil in the Beijing Olympics and last season he was still undergoing rehabilitation for what could have been a very serious (and another) injury to his knee. That particular knee injur,y along with one or two smaller injuries, once again halted his progress this season and up until last month the South American had once again flattered to deceive.
Anderson has looked sharp, fit and effective after undergoing a fast track to fitness similar to that of Wayne Rooney’s. Before returning to the first team fray he played a couple of times for the reserves, on both occasions he scored and utterly dominated the game one of which was against Manchester City, which was particularly pleasing but I opted not to get too excited, this was the reserves, after all. However, after two months out Anderson returned against Fulham in April and since then has been brilliant with the only blot on his copy book being at Arsenal in which, in truth, not many United players performed in a defeat which I see as being largely down to tiredness, what sportsmen and women call “burn-out”, in what has been a packed schedule.
Despite this, some were disappointed by Anderson’ inability to effect proceedings against Arsenal as these are the games his critics will say he needs to show his metal; we know he can do against Everton at home, but can he do it in the crunch fixtures? Well, unfortunately, it wasn’t to be on this occasion and despite putting a sweat soaked shift his impact was minimal and he was substituted in the second half. Fortunately, we know that Ando has it in him, against Arsenal away and home in 2007/08 he was excellent in nullifying the likes of Hleb, Flamini and Fabregas. He also had a field day against Steven Gerrard at Anfield much to the travelling supports delight. Similarly, in 2008/09, he was crucial in United’s Champions League run effective once again against Arsenal in the semi-final. He and Fabregas were brilliant in 2007/08 and I even made a prediction that three years from then Anderson and Fabregas would be the best midfielder’s in the country the next generation of Keane and Viera. Well, here we are and I believe it’s safe to say that my prediction was a little off the mark; you could put a good argument forward to say that Fabregas is the best, however, Anderson has simply not been able to consistently produce the brilliance we know he is capable of (largely down to no fault of his own as we have discussed). In fact, while we are on the subject for me the best all-round midfielder’s in the country at this moment are Luka Modric, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes (on his day) who in the latter two’s case I only wish were ten years younger – but this is me going off topic.
As for the Anderson-Fabregas ‘discussion’, I have going on about how Anderson has shown he can get one over the Spaniard and that when they are on form little separates them but as Arsenal’s best midfielder by a long shot he has been given the consistency that Anderson so desperately needs. But, as I have already allured to, there is much to be positive about. I believe that a fully fit Anderson, provided by a good pre-season, played in an advance role can have a massive impact for the United squad of now for the foreseeable future. He seems grounded now and has said recently stated that he now prefers to spend time with his children on his day off rather than go ‘chasing girls’, if you like. It’s been a long time coming, but it appears he’s adjusted to life in England and at United and if he gets a bit of luck I can see a star in the making at Old Trafford.