Rants and musings from the magazine team
Destiny. For those who believe it exists, it’s inevitable, a force that has pre-determined the future of individuals.
It is unknown whether a 17-year-old Brazilian wonder-kid named Anderson believed in it when he earned a transfer from Gremio to FC Porto, after a series of dazzling performances in Brasileirão saw him labeled as the next Ronaldinho. Like the man he was compared to, the starlet tasted the limelight thanks to his form, and had many believing his potential was immeasurable. However, also like the former Ballon D’or winner, it all came crashing down.
After continuing to impress with Porto, the youngster earned a then record £25 million move to Manchester United in 2007 and the sky seemed to be the limit. What he didn’t know was that after five years with the club, his reputation would have transformed from promising youth with the world at his feet, to a far less vibrant shadow of his former self. His fall from grace seems so calculated that only a force such as destiny could be behind it. Before he signed the contract, Anderson was destined to fail at Manchester United.
Sir Alex Ferguson has a knack of discovering hidden characteristics and strengths within his players which he has used to help transform their game. Wayne Rooney has recently been converted from a natural striker to more of an advanced midfielder, while United fans have also seen Ryan Giggs play in nearly every position on the field since he first donned the red of United in 1991. Most of Ferguson’s alterations have yielded positive results. Anderson’s did not.
Many Red Devils’ supporters may recognise Anderson as a deep-lying, centre-midfielder, one who can break up the opposition’s play with his gritty style and proceed to release his teammates on counterattacks with outlet passes. It is strange that Anderson had been compared to Ronaldinho for most of his career when their styles are so disparate.
Anderson battles with Paul Scholes before joining him at United
Under Jesualdo Ferreira, Anderson was allowed to play in his preferred position - the one that earned him the initial plaudits - directly behind the strikers. The Brazilian wonderkid dazzled the Porto faithful with eye-of-the-needle through-balls, long passes which found forwards Lisandro Lopez, Helder Postiga and Ricardo Quaresma in space, and dribbles which left his markers dumbfounded.
What was even more special about him was that he handled both the duties of an attacking and a defensive midfielder. Ferreira sometimes preferred to play in a 4-3-3 without defensive midfielder Paulo Assunção, but with Lucho Gonzalez and Raul Meireles as central midfielders and Anderson in an advanced position on the pitch instead. While defending, the triangle of Os Dragões’ midfield would invert, and Anderson would fulfill the duties of a centre-defending midfielder.
It was perhaps his relentlessness and his ability to deliver bone-crunching tackles to recover possession and not his attacking characteristics that caught the eye of Sir Alex. However, knowing that the former Gremio player had great technical abilities may have prompted United’s gaffer into attempting to convert the youngster into a deep-lying playmaker ala Andrea Pirlo.
Anderson was taken out of his comfort zone, robbed of the ability to use his natural Brazilian flair and was no longer able to pick out teammates or find the back of the net himself. As a result, it took more than 40 games at United for Anderson to score his first goal. At Porto, he scored three in 15 Liga appearances.
Of course, Anderson’s conversion also hints that Ferguson had eyed the midfielder as the eventual replacement for an ageing Paul Scholes.
Anderson moved to United at 19 years-old, a crucial age for footballers. No matter how much talent they may have displayed by this point, they must be allowed to continue to hone their abilities by seeing as much playing time as possible. In paying such a hefty transfer price for his services, it may have been assumed that Anderson would have been starting in United’s midfield. Destiny and Sir Alex halted his progress once more.
Ferguson, always loyal to his veteran players, would never have immediately inserted Anderson into his starting 11, especially if it came at the price of bringing the axe down on then 32-year-old Scholes.
So the new signing would have to wait until Scholes’ retirement to be able to really stake a claim. One year, perhaps two, would be all Anderson would have to wait in the legend’s shadow.
Injuries have hampered Anderson's progress at Old Trafford
Five years later, Scholes, now 37, is still playing for United, despite having briefly retired in 2011. Anderson is still waiting.
The Brazilian’s growing injury troubles do him no favours in his bid to usurp the icon in the pecking order. Anderson is becoming well-known for his fitness issues in the Premier League. Severe injuries to his knee have caused Anderson to miss the majority of the games between the 2010 and 2012, having only played in 28 matches during that period. Although he seems to have physically recovered from the injury which kept him out for most of the 2011/12 season, Anderson may not have recovered mentally.
With Scholes temporarily retired for the first five months of the season, the Brazilian started in eight of his ten appearances, scoring two goals in the process. Just when it seemed he was recovering his Porto and Gremio form, Anderson was sidelined with a knee injury picked up in a Champions League match against Otelul Galati. An premature comeback on New Years Eve delayed him further, and he was shut down for the season.
With a depleted midfield, Ferguson needed to make an addition, one that could guide his side towards challenging Manchester City for the title. With Anderson out, Scholes left retirement to once again find a place in United’s midfield and again leave the 24-year-old in his shadow. Scholes felt so great on the pitch that he signed a one-year contract with the club. Ahead of the 2012/13 season, Anderson will have to start from scratch again.
Unlike most of his troubles, those caused by injury didn’t begin in the Premier League.
At the height of his form in 2006, many were already claiming that after two months as a starter for Porto, Anderson was by far the most talented player in the league. Fans were anticipating what type of role he would play in the always interesting and controversial Portuguese classico between Porto and Benfica. After only 25 minutes of play, the playmaker’s game and year were cut short when Kostas Katsouranis broke his leg with a shattering tackle. Anderson did not play for six months and missed the remainder of Porto’s Champions League campaign.
When he returned, he only showed flashes of the brilliance he had displayed prior to his injury, seemingly playing in a more cautious manner. When they shipped him out to Manchester, Porto officials may have forgotten to attach a tag reading “fragile.” Heading to play in a more physical league where rough tackles and shoulder-to-shoulder combat on the field are a norm, Anderson was always likely to endure more injury trouble.
Anderson was destined to be placed in the wrong position on the field, in Scholes’ dark shadow, and on the injury list before his studs first touched the hallowed turf of Old Trafford. Recent comments from the player display that he is ready to overcome his troubles and that he realises he may be in a do-or-die situation ahead of the upcoming season.
In the process, he will have to overcome all of the prevailing factors that have doomed him in the past. Unfortunately for Anderson, destiny never changes course.
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