Much criticised, yet often lauded, Brazilian midfielder Anderson has truly become Manchester United’s Marmite in four years at Old Trafford. The talent to fulfil every hope; the failure of sustained application to dash every aspiration. Anderson has reached his potential on so few occasions that many have come to believe, with some justification, that United overspent when lavishing €30 million on the teenager in 2007.
Anderson’s positive start to the current campaign has not rid the player of his doubters but it certainly points to a more positive future for the 22-year-old. Indeed, with Tom Cleverley now missing for the next month his Brazilian colleague becomes United’s premier central midfielder. It is a true test of Anderson’s new value.
Both creator and destroyer, Anderson’s dynamic start to the season arguably reached a peak in United’s 5-0 destruction of Bolton Wanderers last weekend. Effervescent, creative and energetic, Anderson was almost everything hoped for from the player who dominated in games against both Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard and Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas in his opening season for the club. That the player completed 85 per cent of his passes at the Reebok – a far superior performance away from home than last season – is one statistic underlining the player’s improvement.
“He’s been tremendous, the boy,” manager Sir Alex Ferguson told Inside United ahead of the Reds’ clash with Bolton.
“He’s had a couple of long-term injuries which haven’t helped him, but in the last year or so, he’s steered clear of injury. That means he’s training every day so his fitness levels are much better. And he’s maturing so you can see the consistency in his game.”
Evidence of that new maturity came in the impressive way Anderson dictated the tempo of United’s play against Owen Coyle’s near-neighbours. The Brazilian’s ability to pass, move and pass again demonstrated all the qualities that so excited four years ago. Agility, physicality and penetration have always been part of the player’s game; now, perhaps, Anderson has added consistency to a potent mix. The player’s change of pace and energy was far too much for Bolton.
Yet, the midfielder is far from perfect. As in earlier games this season, Anderson’s passing broke down at the crucial moment on Saturday. The pass completion ratio of just 60 per cent in the final third against Bolton and two chances created for his team-mates evidence of the failing. This is a key weakness in Anderson’s armoury, especially in Cleverley’s absence. Paired with Michael Carrick or Darren Fletcher, for example, the Brazilian will be asked to take on more of United’s creative burden. History says the Brazilian will fail.
Little wonder that Ferguson warned on Tuesday against over-expectation of his young squad, including Anderson, who may well step aside in favour of both Carrick and Fletcher against Benfica in the Champions League.
“We’ve only played four games,” said Ferguson.
“The quality of our play has been superb, but it’s a young squad. Obviously there’ll be a time when their form tapers off, so I hope the experienced players will then step in and add to the great start to the season we have had. You can’t judge a team after four games. But hopefully they’ll become one our best teams.
“The season really starts when the Champions League comes around. You have games on Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday all the time. We’re coming to a period where we have a game tomorrow and then Chelsea on Sunday, then Leeds on the Tuesday and then Stoke away on the Saturday. The squad will obviously be used.”
The true test of Anderson’s new maturity will come in matches to come, not least United’s fixture with Chelsea at the weekend, which the home side is favourite to win. Anderson’s form against much criticised Chelsea stalwart Frank Lampard, along side new recruit Raul Meireles will come under severe test nonetheless.
And with hope that Anderson will become the €30 million player that Ferguson paid for there is also a warning; the player’s total failure in the 2009 Champions League final against Barcelona. That the Brazilian was overlooked in favour of 37-year-old part-time central midfielder for the 2011 final said much for the lack of influence Anderson has so often brought to bear during his 134 game Old Trafford tenure.
Ferguson must hope, as Anderson takes on a more attacking mantle over the next month, that the player can add both goals and creativity to his bow. One goal has come in five appearances this season, which admittedly is a far superior strike-rate compared to the to the six in 134 overall. Neither is the 15 assists in more than a century of games impressive either.
Yet there is also genuine hope that Ferguson’s almost limitless patience is finally paying dividends. History dictates that judgement is reserved but the player’s ability to continue improving is central to United’s success without Cleverley. In that there is a greater belief that just weeks ago.