Paul Scholes’ retirement at the end of last season leaves Anderson as the next best thing left in the Manchester United squad to fill into the vacancy. But is the 23-year-old Brazilian good enough to step into the studs of United’s ginger-haired veteran?
Manchester United is currently on a preseason tour in the United States where Sir Alex Ferguson is trying a variety of combinations in the middle of the park, hoping to find a solution to his midfield jigsaw within the squad.
The gaffer seems to be pretty pleased with the progress of his current squad and recently said in an interview that the club will not be making any more signings.
This comes as a bit of a surprise to the millions of Manchester United fans around the world who were hoping to welcome a “world-class” signing this summer to replace their beloved Scholesy.
For all we know, this may just be another one of Sir Alex’s famous smokescreens before the big revelation. Manchester United has a history of signing players at the eleventh hour—Literally.
But if that doesn't happen this time around, the hype that has surrounded this whole saga would suggest that the club is already doomed.
Some have even warned that the Premier League champions may be relegation-bound if Wesley Sneijder does not play in red and white next season!
That is a bit over the top in my opinion.
Four seasons ago, Sir Alex acquired the services of two of the hottest European prospects who were plying their trade in the Portuguese Primeira Liga.
One of them was a Portuguese winger with resemblances to the King of Pop and an irrepressible taste for the theatrical.
The other one was a Brazilian, happy-go-lucky, playful attacking midfielder with braided hair and a flair for goals.
These two characters were acquired with an eye on the future and were touted to be the ideal replacements for United veterans Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
They took their time to settle into the physicality of the Premier League and the cold, erratic Manchester weather, but the Portuguese winger, popularly known as Nani, eventually broke out with a bang last season. The Brazilian midfielder Anderson is still getting there.
Even though his CV suggests that he is an attacking midfielder, Anderson has been deployed in a defensive midfielder role at Manchester United.
This was mainly due to the presence of better attacking players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and also due to the fact that Anderson seems to be extremely injury-prone.
Anderson’s appearances were therefore limited and whenever he did play his lack of prowess in front of goal didn’t help him.
However, he has shown a lot of improvement since coming out of a long injury layoff last season that kept him out of the World Cup.
He lit up the United midfield with his industrious style of play towards the closing of last season and combined really well with Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs.
When Anderson is playing well, he is a very attractive player to watch. He has a ghostly presence on the field wherein he covers a lot of ground without anyone realizing it.
Anderson thrives on the “touch-and-go” style of passing and is often seen jonesing for a bite at the ball. He also displayed his ability to produce a good long-ball last season.
His passing techniques have been highly criticized and he was known to give away possession too easily, but the Anderson of the latter half of last season didn't seem to have these problems.
Another area where the Brazilian has attracted flak is his shooting. In his first three seasons at United, Anderson netted just once—not an attractive statistic for an attacking midfielder.
But the Brazilian hit four goals last season, including three in the Champions League.
People often exaggerate his lack of scoring and tend to overlook the other areas of his game where he has blossomed.
He is a spirited workhorse whose best games for United have come when he has had the green signal to break up play and take possession of the ball, run with it into the opposition-half and orchestrate the attack.
Anderson definitely has the potential to shine. However, he needs to work on two major areas if he wants to see more playing time next season: fitness and consistency.
He has been dogged by a lot of injuries in his four years at Manchester United and needs to remain injury-free for an extended interval of time.
Last season, the 23-year-old showed glimpses of what he is capable of adding to the United squad and I believe that a fully-fit Anderson could prove his detractors wrong next season.
If Anderson can get a great run of games without any interruption next season, he will be able to get that consistency into his game that will transform him into a quality player.
Manchester United has indeed lost a great player—someone who was regarded by his compatriots as the best midfielder of his generation.
Someone like Paul Scholes is, in Sir Alex’s words, “irreplaceable." But, Manchester United has lost many an irreplaceable player in the past and have still managed to move on—Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Eric Cantona, to name a few.
There is always someone within the ranks who is waiting to step up to the plate and carry the legacy of the club forward.
Whether Anderson can be that player, we’ll just have to wait and see. But one thing is for sure, the pesky little Brazilian will make sure that he’s first-in-line when the opportunity comes calling.
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