Saturday 21 September 2019

Difficult days all in the past as Anderson finds his form

The 25-year-old was once dubbed ‘Neymar’s little brother’ when he played alongside the Paris Saint Germain star as a teenager at Brazilian side Santos. Photo: PA
The 25-year-old was once dubbed ‘Neymar’s little brother’ when he played alongside the Paris Saint Germain star as a teenager at Brazilian side Santos. Photo: PA

Sam Dean

To fully grasp the extent of Felipe Anderson's sudden transformation into arguably the most dangerous attacking talent outside of the 'Big Six', it helps to go back to mid-October and a 1-0 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur.

Anderson was so poor, and seemingly so out of tune with the demands of Premier League football, that the West Ham United fans even cheered when he was relieved of set-piece duties. His previous attempts had all failed to clear the first man, and his passing and dribbling were equally askew.

That desperate performance marked a low point for the Brazilian, who had shown intermittent glimpses of his talent in a handful of early games but had not come close to producing any sort of form on a consistent basis.

Signed for a club record £36 million from Lazio in the summer, Anderson had declared upon his arrival that he wanted to be the next "protagonist" at a club known for their cult heroes. After three months, though, he seemed unlikely to be anything more than a bit-part character, an expensive extra in an underwhelming cast.

The turning point, for both Anderson and West Ham, was a 4-2 victory over Burnley at the start of last month. Anderson scored twice that day, producing a showing which his manager, Manuel Pellegrini, described as "massive". Those were the first in a run of seven goals in Anderson's last nine Premier League appearances, and the first victory in a run of six wins out of nine for West Ham.

Anderson's match-winning brace against Southampton on Thursday night underlined how pivotal a figure he has become for one of the league's in-form sides. No West Ham player has scored as many goals, created as many chances or completed as many dribbles as the 25-year-old who was once dubbed 'Neymar's little brother' when he played alongside the Paris St-Germain star as a teenager at Brazilian side Santos.

Much of the credit for Anderson's scintillating form will rightly go to Pellegrini, who kept faith in his marquee signing even after those difficult days earlier in the season. Anderson has been given the time to adjust to the new style of football, starting every match this season despite his and West Ham's patchy opening few months.

The West Ham manager had every reason to believe that Anderson will come good. Few coaches have been as successful at getting the best out these mercurial playmakers as the experienced Pellegrini, who has provided a platform for gifted individuals to thrive throughout his managerial career.

The likes of Andres D'Alessandro, Juan Roman Riquelme, Robert Pires, Santi Cazorla, Isco and David Silva all reached new levels of productivity under Pellegrini's management, whether it was at River Plate, Villarreal, Malaga or Manchester City. In an age where team structure and collective organisation is becoming increasingly important, Pellegrini has maintained his belief that it is these individual talents who can determine the outcome of matches.

"You need to know the character of the players," Pellegrini told The Telegraph this month. "You must also manage one player different to how you manage others. You must know the personalities of all of them."

Creative attackers have always been at the heart of the best Pellegrini teams. "Good players decide the games," as he puts it. It is a point he has made when discussing his single year in charge of Real Madrid, when he lacked for a creative schemer following the sale, against his wishes, of Wesley Sneijder. It seems Pellegrini needs a player like Anderson, and in turn Anderson needs a manager like Pellegrini.

This, however, is not to say that Anderson will be indulged. He knows he must put in the hard yards. He accepted as much on his arrival, when he said: "I want to concentrate on the team aspects of the game - marking, regaining possession."

He appears to have been successful in this: no West Ham player has made more tackles than Anderson's 47 this season. In fact, only six midfielders in the entire division have made more tackles than the Brazilian.

Those figures prove there is more than just flair to his game, even if it is the goals and dribbles that so enthuse the West Ham faithful.

Anderson is proving his worth and, at this rate, the only concern in east London will be whether they can keep him in the long term.


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