Signed in 2007 for an undisclosed fee—believed to be around £18-20 million—from FC Porto, Brazilian football aficionados were confident the youngster would become one of the next great attacking midfielders in a long line of successes.
He showed remarkable talent for one so young and with Sir Alex Ferguson as his mentor, what could possibly go wrong? United were quids in, it seemed.
But at 25 years old, Anderson represents a shadow of his former talent and haunts the benches at Old Trafford.
David Moyes doesn't appear to be too smitten with him either and the question must be asked: will the midfielder's career ever recover?
Anderson showed his potential at the 2005 U-17 FIFA World Cup. He won the Golden Ball, accumulating two goals and six assists to beat Carlos Vela, Giovani dos Santos and Nuri Sahin to the podium.
Adidas described the Brazilian as "an outstanding young player, fast, could take charge of a game, skilfully linked up with teammates, very effective on the counterattack, dangerous free kicks."
Dos Santos was branded "inventive" and Sahin "an exceptional talent," but contrasting their respective careers makes for ugly reading in 2013.
Anderson, as we know, struggles to make the bench at United.
Nevertheless, Porto had seen something in the boy and moved to sign the youngster after he had made just five appearances for his hometown club in Brazil.
According to B/R's Chris Atkins, it was an extremely smart pickup (quotes obtained privately):
Before joining Porto, Anderson was touted as the next Ronaldinho.
Having emerged through the Gremio academy system as a tricky attacking midfielder, the comparisons were only natural and, prior to his injury in Portugal, the signs were promising.
With excellent acceleration, impressive close control and a powerful shot, he certainly appeared to be an important player for Brazil's future.
Despite being hindered by a broken leg during his time at the Dragao, Anderson excelled as a No. 10 for Porto and picked up a Liga Sagres winners' medal during his short stint in Portugal.
He showed every last bit of the promise the scouts at the U-17 World Cup had seen in 2005 and Sir Alex Ferguson decided he was worth a hefty splash of cash.
Then-Brazil manager Dunga praised the deal, taking the chance to gush over one of his up-and-coming prodigies (via ManchesterUnited-Mad.co.uk):
Anderson is an exceptional young player who will be a star at next month's Copa America. He has pace, great footwork and likes to run at opponents.
He's a great talent with a terrific attitude and he has no fear. With his strength, power and pace he can be a big success in Europe and one of the very best in the world in years to come.
The Dream Move Falls Apart
A player with such talent and pizzazz would not be fazed by a big price tag and it's certainly not the fee that's seen "Ando" fall from grace.
The biggest contributing factor has been injuries and Rio Ferdinand is just one of the current United cast desperate to see what he can do with a run of games under his belt.
He provides a skill no other in the pack can—dribbling with pace and beating men in the middle of the park—and in today's game, that's a truly attractive trait.
But a succession of ailments had dented his ability to settle in England's North-West and carve out a role in Sir Alex Ferguson's first XI, and we're consistently left with a feeling of "what if?" when it comes to the Gremio product.
As a result of his injuries, Anderson became undisciplined in terms of shape, physique and fitness, and he was lambasted fairly frequently for looking overweight.
The claims were legitimate—he huffed and puffed on more than one occasion—but the health issues he experienced played a big part in this.
Fergie played his part, too, though, and after inexplicably trying to change Anderson's position to a holding/box-to-box midfielder, he was rewarded with predictably-poor showings.
Anderson is, has and always will be a No. 10. And a rather good one at that.
Even after an extremely solid preseason under David Moyes, Ando has started just one game—at home to Crystal Palace—and received just four minutes playing time outside of this encounter. He has not featured in his preferred position so far this season.
The No. 10 role he covets has a queue of players trying to get their foot in the door, with Shinji Kagawa the most popular choice among fans.
Wayne Rooney is the preferred option, it seems, and young prospects Jesse Lingard, Adnan Januzaj and Wilfried Zaha will receive more grooming time and coaching effort.
Even if Anderson keeps fit this season, you get the impression Moyes has no plans to use him. The public pursuit of Ander Herrera (via The Guardian), recruitment of Marouane Fellaini and attempts to snatch Cesc Fabregas, reported by the BBC, confirm as much.
One Man's Trash...
Anderson will likely be sold in the summer of 2014 at 26 years of age with one year left on his deal at Manchester United.
He has no doubt lost chunks of the explosiveness that made him such a hit in 2005, but he still has the talent to carve out a career at another good club.
This is a man who needs to be nurtured, loved and played for a 10-game stretch. The next manager to pick him up will know this and he's going to reap the rewards.
Deep down, Anderson is the same No. 10 who made Porto pay for him after just five senior appearances at Gremio in Brazil.
Natural talent does not disappear and given a run that steers clear of injury, he can be a late-blooming, top-tier player.
He's going to be cheap, he's not going to demand the earth in wages and he's going to be determined. Which club will strike gold in the form of a beleaguered Brazilian sensation?
Forget #FreeShinji, Anderson needs saving.