Anderson: Passing Judgement on Manchester United's Much-Maligned Midfielder

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Anderson: Passing Judgement on Manchester United's Much-Maligned Midfielder
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Anderson

Manchester United's mercurial midfielder Anderson is an enigma; even Sir Alex Ferguson has appeared to think so in the past, with his injury problems.

But then last November he was fulsome in his praise, but that still leaves many supporters in two minds.

So how good is Anderson, or how good could he be if he were fully fit? And as rumours continue to swirl about new signings, what is his likely future at Manchester United?

 

One of the biggest young talents in world football

Anderson began his first-class playing career as a 16-year-old at Gremio in the top tier of Brazilian football. Unfortunately, they were relegated immediately after.

He joined Porto as a 17-year-old for seven million Euros.

Anderson Gremio

At the time he was regarded as one of the brightest young footballers in world football. Manchester United were already tracking him.

Unfortunately, he broke his leg in his second season at Porto, which delayed his signing for United. This was a worrying time for the young Brazilian, who had already featured in the Champions League at the age of 18.

Finally, Anderson signed in July 2007 for about £17 million. By that time he had already debuted for Brazil and had been favourably compared to Ronaldinho. If he could fulfil his teenage potential he was worth every penny.

 

How has he been at United?

Anderson became an immediate favourite at Manchester United after an impressive display in a 1-0 win over Liverpool not long after he arrived.

He's a character in the dressing room, on the training ground and the pitch. His dreadlocks, outrageous skill and swagger have made him popular on the Stretford End, who have sung his name for over five years.

But he has frustrated all and sundry. There is no doubt he has the ability to be great, but how much has his development and delivery been affected by his ongoing injury problems?

Will the Real Anderson Stand Up Please?

He himself would like to believe these troubles are behind him and, from the tenor of his recent interview with ESPN.uk, he would like to stay at United indefinitely.

His first season, 2007/8, was his best to date and he played 38 games but failed to score. He exactly repeated those numbers the following year. Since then, the most he has played is 30 in 2010/11 but 162 games and nine goals in six seasons so far does not yet represent an economic return.

Injuries aside, his form has been inconsistent. After the 2011 Community Shield it looked as if Anderson and Tom Cleverly might be the midfield duo for the foreseeable future. Then Anderson got injured, and just as he was ready he got injured again. That has been the saga.

Instead it seems Sir Alex has settled on Cleverly and Michael Carrick as his first choice for the time being, with Anderson in reserve. It can't have delighted Anderson, however, that Ryan Giggs was recalled to central midfield against QPR.

As the article referred to above quoted Anderson as saying, it seems to be "one step forward and two steps back" at the moment. 

 

What are his future prospects?

Any player who arrives and stays at Manchester United cannot fail to improve if they are there long enough. 

Somewhat frustratingly, Anderson only scored one goal in his first three seasons at Old Trafford. For a player of his talent that is frankly not good enough.

He has, however, become much better at tackling and intercepting. When Cleverly and Anderson play together as they have done in the Capital One Cup this season, for example, they tend to alternate with first one and then the other holding and/or attacking.

It was intensely frustrating to see his performance against Southampton, however. Sky Sports' player review described him as "almost anonymous." One minute he was hitting divine passes and the next he was giving the ball away.

"He also managed to start more Southampton attacks than their own midfield..."

This mercurial form simply won't do if he wants to become a stalwart in the Manchester United side.

His interview mentioned earlier suggests that he is just as much disappointed with himself as he is at his lack of chances.

No doubt he would have loved to play far more times for his country than he has. Maybe he thinks that more appearances for United would have enhanced his chances. 

The trouble is that his inconsistent form would probably not have merited an international call-up even if he had been a regular in the United team.

And now that we are at the business end of the season, with pretty much a fully fit squad, Sir Alex is unlikely to take any chances with his team selections until the Premier League has been sewn up.

So assuming the team continues in all three competitions, we can reasonably expect that Anderson will be on the bench for the Champions League matches (unless United have a comfortable first-leg win at any stage).

He may have much better fortune in the FA Cup. Otherwise in general he surely will sit behind Carrick and Cleverly in the pecking order. Even Phil Jones is ahead of him because Anderson is not at all suited to a holding or defensive midfield role.

Anderson at his Best?

Indeed, the best use can be made of him is as an attacking or creative midfield.

In this respect he may well have looked at the attempted signing of Lucas Moura as a threat and then an opportunity. It seems very possible that Anderson would have been moved on if his young fellow countryman had arrived.

So maybe the 24-year-old looked at the situation and thought "that's the role I should be playing." He certainly has come back lighter, fitter and with a conventional haircut.

However, there is still the suspicion that he cannot last 90 minutes in a game. That also is a major challenge for him.

If he was to fulfil the potential that his undoubted talent foreshadowed, he could save Sir Alex Ferguson a great deal of money in the transfer market.

There will never be another Paul Scholes, but if Anderson had fulfilled that potential he could be every bit as good as Luka Modric or Wesley Sneijder.

So what are the prospects? Leaving that aforementioned speculation aside, he would still seem to be a potential victim of Sir Alex's rebuilding programme.

If Robert Lewandowski came in, Wayne Rooney will surely drop into central midfield. Shinji Kagawa can also play that role. Cleverly is ahead of Anderson on merit right now, especially for work-rate and goal-scoring.

If Kevin Strootman and/or Christian Eriksen were bought, or Ryan Tunnicliffe or Adnan Januzaj came through, then Anderson would surely be surplus to requirements.

Anderson could be a tasty makeweight for the likes of Porto or Benfica if Sir Alex pursued James Rodriguez or Ezequiel Garay. He might in any case attract the attentions of a La Liga or Serie A team, where the more leisurely pace of play would suit his style.

So to be blunt, the jury is still out. 

If he frustrates us the supporters then surely the same thing will be happening with Sir Alex.

Anderson has been at Old Trafford for six seasons, and whatever the circumstances he frankly hasn't fulfilled his undoubted potential.

He is not another Kleberson, as he is determined to prove, but sadly the remaining potential maximum of a possible 20 games this season could well be make or break.

Sir Alex always has targets lined up. If Ando doesn't come up with the goods he is surely worth at least £15 million of somebody's money. Even if he does, as things stand, few would object if he was a makeweight in a deal for James Rodriguez or Angel di Maria.

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