Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha and Anderson Luís de Abreu Oliveira, share more than the lengthy name and short-form nick of their heritage. Bought for a combined total of more than £35 million in summer 2007, each is also under huge pressure to perform in the coming campaign as two of United’s most expensive ever young imports. The pair, having suffered what can be reasonably described as a ‘difficult second season’ at Old Trafford, could find that the campaign ahead is the last in a red shirt such was their under performance in the previous year. It would be a harsh call perhaps, but the realities of modern football dictate that United cannot wait forever for promise to migrate into performance.
Indeed, the future of Nani and Anderson has been repeatedly questioned in the media of late – with the aforementioned Portuguese winger often thought to be leaving for new pastures. However, Sir Alex Ferguson, who is not prone to criticising players in public, has consistently defended the pair, including after the recent pre-season Audi Cup in Munich.
“They are young, for a start,” said Ferguson. “And when you are young, you have the ambition to get better. Not only that, but they have the right platform at Manchester United and the right training development.”
“I expect to see great improvement and I have got no fears about it. Anderson is 21 and Nani is 22. They’re young boys and they’re playing at the highest level of football, so yes they will improve.”
Improve they must. This is especially true of Nani who was a shadow of his former self last season, starting just seven Premier League games. That the winger also started six Carling Cup matches, playing alongside the reserves and squad fringe, was a clear indicator of Nani’s fall down the Old Trafford player hierarchy. Statistics aside, Nani’s failure to mature must have been frustrating for a manager who prides himself on the development of youth. While Nani is just a year younger than the departed Cristiano Ronaldo, he is miles away from the quality of the Real Madrid player.
Anderson, meanwhile, was frustrated by injury and the search for form last season. Fans, who had become used to the player’s authoritative displays in his début campaign, rarely saw the best of the Brazilian in the early part of the season. While the player was voted Man-of-the-Match in United’s low-key April win over Portsmouth, it was a rare highlight in an otherwise disappointing season.
The pressure may be the same but the challenge is different for each of the young stars. While Anderson has quickly built a bank of credit with the fans – outplaying both Steven Gerrard and Cesc Fabregas will do that – Nani is a poor performance away from becoming the squad’s bogeyman. Instinctively, fans understand that while Anderson has the making of a world class central midfielder, Nani is doing little more than flattering to deceive.
The Brazilian must add goals to the authority he hopes to regain. A stunning strike against Boca Juniors in the Audi Cup will undoubtedly help his confidence. Nani meanwhile must compensate for the loss of Ronaldo, which many fans already believe is a task beyond him.