Anderson: The Man Who Could Save Ferguson Millions

nigel smithCorrespondent IJuly 30, 2009

HANGZHOU, CHINA - JULY 26:  Anderson of Manchester United in action during a pre-season friendly match between Hangzhou Greentown and Manchester United as part of the club's Asia Tour 2009 at Huang Long Stadium on July 26, 2009 in Hangzhou, China.  (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

As United prepare for a new season, much attention is focused on the strikers destined to replace Cristiano Ronaldo as the club's main goal-getter.

Another day, another declaration from the club concerning Rooney's central role, Berbatov's readiness and Owen's enduring quality.

By contrast, United's declining midfield strength has been somewhat underplayed. The return of Hargreaves after double knee-surgery has been delayed until December. The emerging Possebon is out on loan and Scholes and Giggs are in their twilight.

That places an enormous burden on Michael Carrick and on Darren Fletcher to continue the steadiness of  last season, when he transformed himself from midfield laughing stock to a main cog of the engine room.

Ironically, the Scots' reputation has been enhanced by his failure to take the field in United's ill-fated Champions League final against Barcelona. The player's dismissal against Arsenal which weakened United against Barcelona now goes unmentioned. Instead, talk is of what might have been in Rome had Fletcher been able to participate. The Scottish international is now deemed a worthy starter in United's first 11 as the team seeks a record-breaking fourth title in succession.

Whilst Sir Alex may feel vindicated by Fletcher's rise to prominence, he must now be hoping that his faith in Anderson Abreu de Oliveira is similarly rewarded.

If Anderson can progress next season, he could save United many millions in the transfer market. Failure however, could force United for the first time to reconsider their long term commitment to the £19 million central midfielder.

Few doubt the Brazilian's talent, announced so memorably when Anderson subdued the more celebrated Cesc Fabregas in a momentous encounter at the Emirates in the Autumn of 2007.

"The boy has definitely got something special," Sir Alex told the Telegraph newspaper. "We've been delighted with him and he has proven himself to be a true central midfield player. He can tackle, he's lightning quick, he's brave and he can pass the ball. What he's got to prove is his goalscoring ability because that's something that Scholesy has always given us."

By February 2008, Anderson had put in several more useful shifts in United's colours, prompting his manager to purr once again about the former Porto star.

"Anderson has exploded on to the scene for us and been absolutely phenomenal," he said "We're really pleased with his progress and the evidence is there for all to see."

The manager was even happy to tempt fate by comparing Anderson to the veteran maestro Paul Scholes.

"He isn't entirely like Scholes, although there are similarities,” Ferguson said. “He's more of an aggressive running player. He’s quicker than Scholes, more of the type to run forward from midfield with the ball, whereas Scholes will do it without the ball.”

Anderson's energy, zest and temperament led to more than 30 first team appearances in his first season. The player was delighted by his rapid advance.

"I've played in great teams—like Gremio or Porto—but the day I played my first game at Old Trafford wearing the red shirt against Sunderland, that is a day I will never forget," he said as the season neared its close.

"I just want to play in as many games as possible. Even if I have to play in goal, I'll do it. I've enjoyed every match I've been involved in this season and the different positions I've taken up.

"In the long term, I'm sure the manager will play me wherever he feels I will be most effective."

Much was expected of Anderson as the 2008-09 season opened. Many were disappointed. Sir Alex's  constant rotation of his midfield, coupled with Hargreaves long-term absence, presented Anderson with opportunities to establish himself.

Certainly, the team could have done with the midfield brio that had earned Anderson his reputation as United's "Edgar Davids".

Instead, Anderson flitted in and out of the first team. It hardly helped matters that talked of moving to another club.

"I really like Inter," he declared last December. "I have always liked them from when Ronaldo played there. Inter can win anything with the players they have.

"Italian football is the best in the world and the most intelligent. Every player wants to play in Serie A, because Italians are the masters of football.

"I will not hide myself and in future I would love to play for Mourinho at Inter. My dream is to be coached by Mourinho."

A late season surge saw Anderson feature in some important matches but the signature of his second year in Red was the manner in which he went AWOL against Barcelona in the Champions League final. Anderson's inattention and inability to follow his manager's instructions was a gift to Barcelona's Xavi and Iniesta and another reminder of the player's youth and inexperience.

The failures underscored a general impression created by Anderson during his two years at United. The midfielder is skilled and capable of influential performances but so too, of immensely frustrating displays which force admiration at his abilities to give way to concern over his limitations.

There are mitigating factors of course, with youth and a certain unfamiliarity with the English game being but two. Alas, Anderson is yet another unreliable United midfield goal-scorer. He doesn't always apply himself to defensive duties. He may lack the strength needed for the Premiership. His extra-curricular adventures may eventually blight his career

As Anderson matures and adds goal-scoring and discipline to his armoury, he could go on to become one of the world's midfield greats. The 29 July goal against Boca Juniors in a friendly match was a timely indication of his quality.

Anderson's destiny appears to be that of a box to box player who can raid from deep, arrive late and punish opponents by creating opportunities for himself and others. This is football shorthand for the kind of midfield diamond sought after by all the top clubs.

If Anderson succeeds, the joy will be all United's.