Anderson signed a new four-and-a-half-year contract extension this week that will keep the Manchester United midfielder at Old Trafford until at least June 2015. It’s a remarkable turnaround for the 22-year-old midfielder who, many suspected, faced a bleak future at Old Trafford after injury and temperamental problems stunted his progress.
The question is: can the Brazilian justify the hefty pay rise and lengthy contract?
The new deal is reward both for the player’s improved recent form and recognition that with just 18 months left on his current deal, the Anderson’s value could potentially erode. Indeed, after a cruciate knee injury last February, a spat with manager Sir Alex Ferguson and a rehabilitation programme that involved drinking and crashing cars at high-speed, few backed Anderson to finally come good.
But the player has turned this perception around – at least in part – following several positive performances in the past month. It is a reminder of the talent and energy that the former Porto player possesses, if only he can apply it with more consistency.
Despite seemingly going backwards since bursting onto the English scene three years ago, Anderson will now spearhead United’s midfield for the next five years. It’s a long way from the poor form and dreadful attitude that seemed to infect the player’s time at Old Trafford for the best part of the last 18 months.
Yet outstanding displays in key matches during the player’s first season pointed to a bright future. Perhaps not the creative Ronaldonho-esque Brazilian many United supporters thought they had acquired but huge potential nonetheless.
Yet an exit though was close. In fact had Ferguson not intervened Anderson could have left Old Trafford last winter, with the player absconding to Brazil without permission seemingly in search of a new club and a rash of European teams apparently enquiring about the player.
Ferguson’s now seems vindicated though, assuming the Brazilian can maintain or improve his form of the last few weeks.
“We are delighted he has signed a new contract,” Ferguson told ManUtd.com this week.
“Anderson has developed tremendously since joining us and he has fantastic potential at only 22; he is going to be a really top player.”
Performances of power, energy and some invention have come recently, especially against Arsenal on Monday night, although the old tendency to give away possession still remains. The question now is whether the Brazilian can finally justify both the £17 million fee United paid Porto in 2007 and the £80,000 per week contract that will earn Anderson more than £18 million before it ends.
Certainly the player is now more liberated, with Ferguson deploying the midfielder with less defensive duties than previously – although the oft-aired argument that Anderson is United’s answer to an attacking playmaker is as yet totally unproven. After all, the player has just two goals in a more than 100 appearances for the club and less than a dozen assists in three years.
Still, the player made all the right noises this week, professing commitment where it has not always been forthcoming. Moreover effort on the training field has apparently doubled since returning from injury in September. Proof in Ferguson’s eyes at least that Anderson is central to United’s future.
“This is the best club to be at and I would like to thank everyone for the great support I have received over the years,” said Anderson this week.
“I am looking forward to winning many more trophies with United and I am so pleased to have signed a new contract.”
Empty platitudes perhaps but also a sign, however small, that Anderson is now committed to the long-term regeneration of United’s midfield post Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs even if a question remains over his role.
The player’s recent good form has come with fewer defensive responsibilities even if there is little evidence that Anderson can suddenly become a world-class creative midfielder the misguided hubris of some fans points to.
Yet there is reason to be positive in what Anderson can genuinely provide: pace, power, energy. In an age of false-nines and trequartistas, the Brazilian has all the attributes of an old-fashioned box-to-box midfielder.
Of course, goals remain missing from the player’s repertoire. Just two in more than 100 games for United and a record that does not read any better at international level or with previous clubs.
“He is strong, he can beat a man and has great acceleration from a standing position. He is electric in that sense.
“The area he has to improve is goalscoring,” admits Ferguson.
“He recognises that and all the players tell him. That is his weakness, he doesn’t score enough goals.
“But he is still only 22. He is an emerging player and hopefully in three or four years’ time we will be looking back and saying he has given us goals because he has the ability to do it.”
It might be the difference between justifying United’s £40 million total outlay in five years – or not.
Yet, alongside a couple of high-quality midfield acquisitions come summer 2011 – assuming the club still possesses the “ambition” claimed during Wayne Rooney’s contract negotiations – Anderson could form a pivotal part of United’s midfield for a decade.