Manchester United: Will Anderson Ever Live Up to His Billing?

Allan JiangTransfers CorrespondentNovember 7, 2012

Manchester United: Will Anderson Ever Live Up to His Billing?

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    Six seasons into Anderson’s career with Manchester United, there’s still a feeling that he has yet to maximise his potential.

    The 24-year-old Brazilian international cost Manchester United €30 million.

    At the time, there wasn’t a consensus transfer fee in pounds. Andrew Downie at ESPN FC reported £17 million, Mark Ogden at The Telegraph stated the figure was £19 million and the Evening Standard believed it was £20.4 million.           

    Point being, Anderson was an expensive buy for Sir Alex Ferguson.

    Will the United midfielder ever live up to his billing? 

Anderson: 2005 FIFA Under-17 World Championship

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    Grêmio prodigy Anderson was well aware that succeeding at the 2005 FIFA Under-17 World Championship could be his ticket out of Brazil.

     

    FIFA 2005 U-17 Goals Assists Total Goals
    Carlos Vela 5 0 5
    Nuri Şahin 4 3 7
    Anderson  2 6 8
    Giovani dos Santos 0 7 7
           
    FIFA 2005 U-20
       
    Lionel Messi 6 2 8
    Fernando Llorente 5 2 7
    David Silva 4 0 4
    John Obi Mikel
    1 2 3
    Falcao 2 0 2

     

    Anderson didn't just succeed, he dominated the tournament like Messi a few months earlier at the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Youth Championship. 

    With six goals and two assists, Messi was the Golden Ball recipient. Do you know who took out the Silver Ball? John Obi Mikel—not as a holding midfielder, but as an elegant playmaker. 

    Anderson wasn't a defensive midfielder during the tournament. That role was left to Roberto. He wasn't a centre midfielder, either. Captain Denílson, who later joined Arsenal, played that position. 

    Manager Nelson Rodrigues gave Anderson the license to roam just behind No. 9 Igor. The Grêmio youngster repaid Rodrigues' faith by taking out the Golden Ball

    Portuguese giants Porto came knocking. 

    He was on his way to fulfilling his ambitious claim (from the Daily Mail via ManchesterUnited-Mad.co.uk): "Everyone will see me on TV one day. I will one day buy a house for my mother and a football pitch for the kids in this neighbourhood."

Anderson Needs to Play as an Attacking Midfielder

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    The No. 1 reason why Anderson hasn't lived up to his billing at Manchester United is because he hasn't been played in the right role. 

    Let's take a look at his official United profile (via ManUtd.com): 

    Where Ronaldinho is all flicks and flamboyance, Anderson (or Ando as he is known to his team-mates) is bustling with energy and possesses an eye for a defence-splitting pass. He has skill and technical ability in abundance, but his preference for midfield combat could bring you to question his Brazilian roots.

    Does he really prefer running, pressing, jockeying and tackling like Lucas Leiva?

    It's hard to believe Anderson loves the defensive side of the game when his fitness levels are questionable and he isn't an elite tackler. He's not durable enough to continue playing a role that requires such physical exertion, nor does his positional play slightly resemble Gilberto Silva. 

     

    League Only  Tackles Per Game  Tackles Per Foul Interceptions Per Game
    Anderson (11-12) 2.3 1.9 1.5
    Yohan Cabaye (11-12) 3.4  3.4 2.6
    Anderson (10-11) 1.8 1.6 1.1
    Stuart Holden (10-11) 4.5 4.9 2.6
    Anderson (09-10) 1.5 1.2 1
    Javier Mascherano (09-10) 5.2 2.7 2.9

     

    Maybe, just maybe, Anderson prefers pulling off the hocus pocus, gliding past two players, going on a rampaging run and providing a defence splitting through-ball

    It's the same story with John Obi Mikel. The Nigerian has regressed so much from an attacking perspective that he'll never again be the player that signed for Manchester United, only to end up at Chelsea

    At least with Anderson, there are shades of his old-self. Even though United lost 5-4 to Chelsea, he was easily the best player on the field. 

    He showed pizzazz by pulling off some flicks and showed his creativity with three assists.

Anderson's Chances of Playing an Advanced Midfield Role Don't Look Good

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    Sir Alex Ferguson ditched his bread and butter, the 4-4-2, for the more suave 4-2-3-1.

    This was to originally fit Shinji Kagawa into the team, but has since laid the foundations for a brilliant partnership between Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. 

    Van Persie talked about his combination with Rooney (via ManUtd.com):

    I call it a nine-and-a-half because you have two positions, the nine and the ten, and we are both nine-and-a-half. We are just helping each other out. We both play behind and a bit higher up. It seems to be working well and I am very happy with Wayne—hopefully we can keep it going.

    Anderson would be exciting to watch in the nine-and-a-half role. Unfortunately, his chances of consistently playing that position for United are slim to none.

    This means he'll continue to run and tackle in midfield, which will put him at risk for more muscle injuries. 

    Writing for BBC Sport in 2009, South American footballing correspondent Tim Vickery was apprehensive about United's decision to change Anderson's position:

    One point was made a few times, that Manchester United were playing their expensive new signing Anderson in central midfield, a role that no coach in his native land would have considered for a nanosecond.

    I well recall him starring as an attacking midfielder in World Under-17 Cup in Peru in September 2005. He was voted Player of the Tournament and his performance in the semi-final against Turkey was one of the most devastating individual displays I have ever seen.

    He charged through to set up a goal after 15 seconds, scored a glorious solo second, hit the bar with a free-kick, put his team-mates clean through three or four times - and in the final seconds, after Turkey had forced their way back to 3-3, his run took out their entire defence before he squared the ball for the centre-forward to tap home the winner.

    Previously in his career there had not been much call for defensive awareness and tackling skills. It has been a bold switch by United. But as one who was wowed by Anderson on that night in Peru, a nagging doubt remains—not a conviction, nowhere near, just a doubt. 

    Could it be that in this new role Anderson is forced to sacrifice a bit too much of what he is naturally good at? He is now operating in a zone where giving the ball away can be disastrous. Launching one of those dribbles he unleashed against the Turks is high risk.

    This necessity to rein in some of his attacking instincts might help explain his curious lack of goals for United.

    Three years on, United's decision to change Anderson's position has disastrously backfired.

    Have United ruined Anderson's career? Comment below with your thoughts. 

     

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    Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com

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