Anderson is on the cusp of a return to the Manchester United team after recuperating in Portugal and – more prominently – the bars of Braga. The midfielder, who ruptured his left anterior cruciate ligament against West Ham United last season, has much to prove beyond his fitness though. The Brazilian’s place in the United squad is at stake.
Even before the midfielder’s injury last February question marks hung over the 20-year-old former Porto player. In the three seasons since Anderson’s £19 million move from Portugal, the player has fitfully excelled but all too often disappointed both with performances on the pitch and the player’s off-the-field behaviour.
Indeed, a year ago Rant described the season as Anderson’s last chance. While Nani grabbed his opportunity in the second half of last season to save his United career, Anderson had taken a step backwards. So much so that Sir Alex Ferguson consigned the midfielder to the reserves for a month.
Then, seeking a move away, Anderson went AWOL in Brazil, with the club issuing a hefty fine. United even considered for a moment offers from European teams, including Paris St Germain, to take the midfielder away from Old Trafford at a considerable loss. The temptation, as we now know, was rebuffed.
In the player’s comeback match Anderson suffered the injury that may just have saved his United career. Now the boy from Porto Alegre is keen to make up for lost time.
“I’m so happy and excited to be back again after six months without football,” Anderson told ManUtd.com today.
“I’ve been really excited to be back. I’ve been so happy ever since I got back to Carrington and I just can’t wait to play again.
“I’m feeling good. I’ve been training for two weeks and I’m very happy. I think maybe very soon I’ll come back again and start playing normally with the rest of the team. I have had no problems at all with the injury. I’m just running and training now really hard, so I can come back and train normally with the team.”
Questions remain though, both about Anderson’s attitude towards his career at United and his role – if any – in the team. There are few guarantees that the player has the desire to succeed at United, with all the professionalism that entails. A history of prostitutes, late-night parties and car crashes hardly bode well.
More to the point, there is little evidence to suggest Anderson can rediscover the attacking instincts that brought him to the world’s attention as a 17-year-old.
Today, United’s failure to recruit a new midfielder this summer – with Ferguson’s favourite Mesut Özil joining Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid – means that Anderson is arguably more important to United’s cause than ever. Indeed, plenty of supporters believe that the Brazilian can provide the link between midfield and attack that is so patently missing from United’s squad as it stands.
However, that is a belief that stems not from any recent evidence but institutional knowledge of Anderson’s pedigree at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. After all, aged 17 no coach in Brazil would have considered the player for a central midfield role, according to the BBC’s resident South America expert Tim Vickery.
It is now more than three years since Ferguson slowly began the process of replacing the attacking player Anderson once was with an all-action, Europeanised version. That is not a criticism of United’s manager per se, but a reflection of European football’s differing needs. After all, prior to the player’s arrival in Manchester, Porto rarely used Anderson as the ‘number 10’ in the youngster’s short spell on the Iberian coast.
The question now is twofold – could Anderson rediscover the talents of his youth and is Ferguson amenable to it? The answer, one suspects, is negative on either account. Ferguson simply doesn’t trust Anderson in a creative role, while the player’s history in that position, Under 17 World Cup aside, has become a fading memory.
But the loss to romantics is United’s gain if the Anderson that so enthralled the Stretford End two seasons ago rears his dreadlocked head once again. The doubts are nagging. More than a concern now; a genuine fear that the player may not become the midfielder of the highest class United requires.
Time remains on the midfielder’s side of course but the patience is wearing thin. The rest is probably up to him.