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It’s Make Or Break Time For Anderson

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As the headline reads, I believe this could be the vital season for Anderson Luis Abreu de Oliveira at Manchester United in which he will hopefully showcase himself as one of the brightest young players in World football.

Ever since the dreadlocked Brazilian was signed from FC Porto for £17.3 in the summer of 2007 and made his debut against Sunderland, United’s fans were able to spot his talent and vision for the beautiful game. But after delivering a very good first season which culminated in an emotional, pouring night in Moscow, where Anderson kept his nerve from 12 yards, consistency has been a foreign word for the lad, and he’s yet to step up from a talent to a quality player over time.

 Confusing role selection

When judging Anderson, it is important to take Sir Alex Ferguson’s use of him into account, as he has featured in a lot of different roles. For Porto he was brilliant when playing behind the striker as a trequartista (attacking midfielder) and apart from the finishing abilities, he’s done a decent job for United at that slot as well. Additionally, he’s played in a more defensive role, as a left winger and as a box-to-box player. These changes haven’t made it easier for Anderson to adapt into the English game and find his best role; despite adaptability itself being a strength in the game. 

As well, he’s never been a regular, and rarely got consecutive time on the pitch. In his debut season, he played 180 consecutive minutes three times over the entire season, and never 90 minutes three games in a row. The situation became even worse through 08/09, as he never played entire consecutive games when we went on to equal Liverpool’s 18 titles, and in 09/10 he played 90 minutes in consecutive games only once before his serious injury which ruled him out of the rest of the season in February. This streak included a Carling Cup game, where the level is far off Premier League standards in terms of tempo.

The 10/11 campaign saw this replicated, as the only time Anderson played 180 consecutive minutes where in the 7-1 trashing of Blackburn at home and the 0-4 hammering by West Ham in the Carling Cup. In other words, the former Porto player has never played 270 consecutive minutes in the red shirt. Until now, 2011/12, when he has played in the same role over 427 out of 450 minutes including the Community Shield, only subbed off for Ryan Giggs after 67 minutes against Arsenal. 

As you certainly have noticed, he’s rarely been better than this campaign. In my opinion, there is a crystal clear link between this consistent time on the pitch and his consistent level of performance. In other words, I think Fergie should go all-in for him to realise his potential, and at the moment, it seems like the Scot are going to do just that. 

Bad physical shape?

OK, some of you are already mumbling that our midfield magician hasn’t been able to play consistently because of bad physical form. Well, that’s possible, as he has often been subbed on or off during games, but whose fault is actually that?

I presume that this player – just as every other United player – is putting in 100% effort in training. But what he does not do, is to make his own training schedule, that’s down to Fergie himself and/or the staff. In other words, I’m wondering why he hasn’t been as fit as he should’ve been despite working hard at Carrington (I know, because there would’ve been no mercy from Fergie if he didn’t be professional. And 90% effort isn’t to be a proper pro). 

Consistency key

As consistency probably has been the most frequently used word in this post, there’s actually a reason for that. I think the way to go to get a world-class midfielder out of Anderson’s potential, is to keep him fit, play him regularly (but yes, I understand that a player, and especially in midfield, can’t play 60 games a season) and in the same role.

The great Scot seems to have spot this as well, and only 23 minutes on the bench with mostly the same companion in Tom Cleverley when on the pitch, have given both Anderson and our side a flying start of this campaign. I hope the 23-year-old will remain a first choice, and be able to maintain his performance level, bringing his name to the headlines for the good reasons. 

Unique abilities

Some of you might be wondering why I’m such a fan of this player. The answer is that he’s got skills that other players like Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick don’t have in stock. Anderson is good at shielding the ball under pressure and staying forward-minded despite not being the quickest of midfidlers, which is a great quality to have.

Where Carrick and Fletcher seem to fancy passes backwards to our half-backs, which literally leave them as our playmakers, often resulting in long and inaccurate passes from Rio Ferdinand/Nemanja Vidic and allowing our opponents to break down our game, Anderson has the ability to drift past an opponent player or two finding the way into the opponents half on the ball.

This style play enables the ball to be played out quicker more often or not (to our widemen in Nani/Ashley Young or Wayne Rooney when he drops deep) on the floor. I have always felt that this style of play suits United better by far, making it easier to attack and it makes it harder for the opponents to win possession and launch counter-attacks too.

Anderson’s main challenges

But despite my eulogising of our Brazilian wonderboy, he’s obviously got his weaknesses and limits as well as other players. Apart from maintaining his fitness, I feel that another challenge is to reduce the frequency of his risky long-range passes, which seems to appear from time to time. When playing two men in the engine of the side, we can’t afford to have players giving away the ball as often as Anderson can do.

Only four unsuccessful passes (two of them were crosses) against West Bromwich mixed in between his 55 which found a teammate proves that he’s on the right way, as 93% accuracy is a number even Paul Scholes would’ve been satisfied with, but 81% (including one assist) against Arsenal proves that he’s still got work to do. And I hope he does, because then we could be in possession of a world class midfielder, as Anderson could become for us what Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Cesc Fabregas have been for our competitors in recent years. 

The danger zone

What Anderson really needs to avoid this season is another season as the ones he has shown already. By the summer of 2012, Ando needs to prove that he actually was worth the huge transfer fee for a player unproved at the highest level (with no disrespect to the Portuguese league or Porto.)

Four years ago we bought a talent, and we’ve still got a talent. If he’s still considered as a talent – and not proven quality – next summer, it’s time to ask the question whether it’s actually time for the jokerman to move on, because a possible five years without any progress worth mentioning easily can be too much. And, let’s face it, there’s no guarantee that Anderson or anyone else is capable to make it at Old Trafford, no matter what the player’s properties and abilities.

Great players have struggled to be long-term successes at Old Trafford, both Juan Sebastian Veron and Diego Forlan come to mind as players who despite oozing with ability were unable to really hit the heights in England. Both have left and enjoyed success elsewhere, so if you don’t fit into what it takes of being a United player, players can have the chance to make a decent career elsewhere, but you get the feeling Anderson wants to be a success here. It’s a huge year ahead for him. 

By Nicolas Berg @Nicopoleides