Saturday 23 September 2017

United must share the blame for Anderson's failings

Injury and lack of willpower haunt Brazilian

Anderson is ending his eight-year relationship with Manchester United, joining Internacional in his native Brazil on a free transfer Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images
Anderson is ending his eight-year relationship with Manchester United, joining Internacional in his native Brazil on a free transfer Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Henry Winter

When Anderson clambered from the bench at Wembley in 2013 for the season's annual curtain-raiser, the mischievous among the 80,235 crowd will have noted the Manchester United midfielder's tight-fitting shirt and concluded that the Community Shield was not the only one sponsored by McDonald's.

Anderson's nutritional habits were a question of considerable scrutiny, even engaging debate on the club's in-house television channel in the same year when Patrice Evra was filmed joking to Rio Ferdinand that "I bring him his burger at one o'clock".

Now that Anderson is ending his eight-year relationship with United, joining Internacional in his native Brazil, the opportunity arises to recall a sad wasting of a wonderful talent and analyse a salutary lesson for the game.

Anderson packed four Premier League medals, two League Cup baubles and a Champions League medal in his bag but too few real memories.

Appetite

The headline verdict on the Brazilian (below) will focus on his appetite, growing off the field and waning on it, but the story is more complicated, more sorrowful.

No true lover of football can enjoy watching a thoroughbred colt fail to train on. Only those committed to a rival cause or having flint for hearts would have ignored Anderson's joy at playing the game, at winning, at celebrating with team-mates. His smile, and playing style in 2007 and '08, captured what football should be about.

The dimming of his early glow at Old Trafford can partially be attributed to the onslaught of injuries. He fought back from three career-threatening injuries, a bad leg break during his Porto days in 2006 and twice at United when he ruptured his cruciate in 2010, and damaged his knee again in 2011.

Anderson also endured assorted niggles, minor hamstring incapacitations that restricted his impact, even contributing to certain lifestyle issues.

So was Anderson profligate prodigy or happy-go-unlucky? The truth probably rests between the two extremes. A charismatic Brazil international should not be hurried through departures out of the country; his fluctuating experience during 179 appearances for United deserves exploration.

Anderson's soured fairytale is a failure of willpower and a frailty in sinews and ligaments but also a case of United being too self-indulgent and playing him out of position.

As a teenager at Porto, Anderson's progress was tracked by increasingly besotted United scouts, including Alex Ferguson's brother Martin, who called his famous sibling and enthused: "Alex, he's better than (Wayne) Rooney." Such a 2007 eulogy has received retrospective mocking yet the judgment of Ferguson junior was sound.

Anderson made his name at Gremio, moved to Porto, and was immediately coveted. Ferguson, seeking a long-term successor to Paul Scholes, and always looking for a midfield powerhouse in the post-Roy Keane era, agreed with his brother's appraisal and invested an initial £17m in a seemingly winning blend of technique and tenacity.

The opening reviews acclaimed money well spent. On November 3, 2007, Anderson had the United fans inside the Emirates purring as he outplayed and outmuscled Arsenal's midfield of Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini. A month later at Anfield, the United support thrilled to his skirmish with Liverpool icon Steven Gerrard.

Anderson was everywhere, clearing a Harry Kewell shot off the line, being fouled by Gerrard, then rampaging 60 yards until stopped by Gerrard's sliding tackle. Gerrard became increasingly riled by this teenaged upstart, the pair soon squared up and both were booked.

United fans loved his fearlessness, the way he stood up to Gerrard in front of the Kop, and the way he strolled from the pitch when substituted in the final minute, running down the clock on a 1-0 victory.

"Anderson was terrific, he wasn't intimidated by Steven Gerrard," Ferguson pronounced.

Later that season, United's manager even trusted Anderson in a truly tense moment, sending him on in time for the 2008 Champions League shoot-out against Chelsea in Moscow. Just turned 20, Anderson did not let down his manager, team-mates or supporters. On a lesser level, Anderson scored the winning penalty in the League Cup final shoot-out against Tottenham Hotspur in March 2009.

Weeks later, Anderson impressed against Arsenal away and particularly at home in the semi-final of the Champions League, driving forward, taking corners. In another meeting with Spurs, on August 22, 2011, at Old Trafford, Anderson dovetailed brilliantly with Danny Welbeck, playing a one-two with the Englishman to score in a 3-0 triumph. Anderson achieved some great moments, but never great seasons.

Wisdom can usually be found in the thoughts of Gary Neville, a former team-mate of Anderson's.

"He is a big-game player, has a big-game mentality, lots of skill but never was fit enough to be able to do it consistently, week in and out in the Premier League and that's a real shame," Neville observed on Sky.

He mentioned Anderson's misfortune with injuries but also questioned his desire. "You have those players who look back at the end of their careers and wonder: 'Could I have been that little bit more driven?' He has the talent but lacked in other areas. He'll look back at his Manchester United career with some level of disappointment.'' Undoubtedly.

Anderson should have been more dedicated but could Neville's beloved club have acted more judiciously, more strictly with him?

Only Ferguson can know that. Some latitude may have been allowed through his popularity, a feeling of pity following his ill luck with injuries and the hope that next year he would be Footballer of the Year.

Ferguson rarely fielded Anderson in his most effective position, as a No 10, almost trying to turn him into a holding midfielder.

When Ferguson retired in 2013, Anderson's days were really numbered. David Moyes was immediately concerned about the No 8's conditioning but marvelled at his finishing in training. Moyes' successor, Louis van Gaal, talked of Anderson's ability as a No 10 but he has enough of those, including Rooney and Juan Mata.

Like Robin van Persie, Mata was among those United players quick to salute the exiting 26-year-old.

After the "have a nice week! Hugs" sign-off in his blog on Monday, Mata wished "good luck to my friend Anderson, who is back to football in his native Brazil".

Yet they rarely crossed paths at United, with Anderson either on loan at Fiorentina or out of favour. They managed only 17 minutes sharing a pitch (against Burnley on August 30) yet Anderson was such a popular character around Carrington that Mata posted this fulsome farewell. So thanks for the memories - but there should have been more. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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