The Curious Case of Anderson at Manchester United

Anderson Luis de Abreu Oliveira or simply, Anderson, is a midfielder who is somewhat lost in the cimmerian shade of Old Trafford. The dread-locked 22 year old wreaks of talent, but has regressed rather than progressed during his three years at Barclays Premier League giants, Manchester United. But, why?

Is the Barclays Premier League too challenging for him? The answer is a resounding no, in my opinion. His best qualities include his excellent work rate, wonderful athleticism, technique, pace, bubbling determination and strength. We all know the Barclays Premier League is as physical as it comes and those qualities would help a player to cope. Then, what is the problem?

In my opinion, Anderson’s talent is not being properly utilized. I look at clips from his Porto days and from his Gremio days further back and then I look at clips of him at Manchester United. Both players are not the same. The Anderson at Gremio and Porto looked like a live wire on the pitch and was effectively expressive of his skills and wonderful pace. His attacking endeavor was nothing short of sublime, hence him being compared to the Ronaldinho of old. Don’t believe me? Have a look at the following video-

Now in stark contrast, the Anderson at Manchester United, most times, looks somewhat restricted in movement and low in self-confidence. I recall not long after Anderson’s transfer, Ferguson said that they (himself and the staff) were still trying to figure out what his best position was. Unfortunately though, I think they arrived at the wrong decision. Since then, I noticed that Ferguson has been trying to mould Anderson into a defensive midfielder. The lung-busting runs up the pitch that Anderson was so accustomed to making at both his former clubs became few and far in between at Old Trafford. The player himself admitted some time ago that he can’t get into the box as much as he would like.

Anderson has failed to adapt to this defensive midfield role, hence the lack of progress in his Manchester United career. 1 competitive goal in three years tells an ignominious tale. Of course, his off-the-field antics didn’t do him any favors either. There was the incident where he returned to Brazil without permission and most recently, there’s his nearly fatal car accident in Portugal. Back on point though, Anderson’s playing style is one that ticks all the boxes of what makes a quality attacking midfielder these days. His playing style, if nurtured, will see him rise high enough to rank among the world’s best in his position, like his fellow countryman Kaka and company.

However, if he is restricted from expressing those qualities on the pitch and is instead made to play a role that he is uncomfortable with (defensive midfield), then understandably, both his confidence and his performance level will hit rock bottom and that is truly evident with Anderson. A player that often dazzled on the field at Gremio and Porto now looks dejected, lost and frustrated in his new role at Manchester United. Just because Anderson gets stuck in at times and can win possession, it does not mean that he is cut out to become a defensive midfielder. It just means that he can track back to help his defence. Hey, Rooney gets stuck in and can regain possession, but that doesn’t mean that Ferguson will partner him with Fletcher or Scholes in midfield. The fact of the matter is, Rooney’s qualities are best put to use up front. In like manner, Anderson’s qualities are best put to use in attacking-midfield. Thus, Ferguson didn’t have to change Anderson’s position or playing style. Now, he has a player who’s young career is faltering.  

How can Anderson be helped? The solution is quite simple- Anderson needs to be given the freedom he enjoyed at Gremio and Porto to get involved in the attack. He proved himself to be a flamboyant and energetic attacking midfielder before he signed for Manchester United and by all means, he should continue in that role. There is much talk and fuss about United not having a midfield maestro and a goal-getter from midfield like Chelsea (Lampard), Arsenal (Fabregas) and Liverpool (Gerrard) do, but I strongly believe that Anderson has what it takes to claim that role as his own. In an eve where the search is on for Scholes’ heir, Anderson can stake his claim. But, he must be given the opportunity.

How can his his playing style be accommodated? Well, I think Anderson will perform best in a 4-2-3-1 system in the free-role behind the main striker (Rooney). He would also do well in a 4-3-3 system in a role similar to that played by Fabregas of Arsenal and Lampard of Chelsea. Both those formations would allow Anderson to express himself in a vibrant, attacking sense. He can also fit into Ferguson’s trademark 4-4-2, but that just means that Fletcher or another defense-minded midfielder would have to take up the bulk of the defensive work in order to afford Anderson the freedom that he needs and thrives on. Given time to re-adapt to this attacking midfield role and given a run of games in the team, I am fully convinced that Anderson can enjoy a rejuvenated career just like his team-mate, Nani. The talent is definitely there. If it wasn’t, then he would not have been compared to the Ronaldinho of old and Ferguson would not have paid 18 million pounds for him back in 2007. Remember, this player is only 22 years old and has a lot of time to develop still. His career is by no means over.

Right now, he needs to get fit. A possible concern though, is that he may suffer an adverse psychological effect because of his car accident, but hopefully, this doesn’t occur. Despite his poor form up to now, despite him being linked with moves away from the club and despite some off-the-field indiscretions, I tightly hold the view that Anderson is still a great talent. I sincerely hope that this talent is properly utilized, otherwise, Manchester United, Brazil and by extension the football world will surely miss out.

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  1. elvido 27 August, 2010
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  7. RedScot 27 August, 2010
  8. Patrick Devaney 28 August, 2010
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  14. elvido 29 August, 2010