Manchester United beat Kitchee FC 5-2 in their final game of the pre-season tour of the East and Anderson got a rare 90 minute run out. That game marked the six year anniversary of Anderson Luis de Abreu Oliveira being granted a work permit to play in the UK, and four days later the boy from Brazil officially became a Manchester United player.
Aged just 19, Anderson joined for a significant transfer fee – around £20m – and was immediately handed the number 8 shirt vacated by Wayne Rooney (who became United’s number 10). And fans were cautiously optimistic. Youtube footage of him did the rounds. We liked what we saw: Ando scoring a brilliant solo-goal for Gremio, in which he slalomed through the entire opposition defence before calmly slotting home. Ando buccaneering up and down the pitch for Porto. Some said that given time, he would become the box-to-box midfielder we so yearned for.
Six years later, and we’re still waiting.
The jury’s not just still out on Anderson, they’re out-out. Downing beers at George Best’s best session rate. Drinking to forget.
Anderson’s become a bit of a punchline, a comedy caperer. A clown. We laugh at his antics at United free-kicks when he stands in front of the opposition ‘keeper, generally arsing around and trying to put him off. We have a little giggle at his over-the-top celebrations after title wins. Most fans are as likely to talk about his expanding waistline, or the way he’s so obviously wheezing after a lung-busting run upfield as they are his goals. The song we sung about him – the one in which we inform him he “shits on Fabregas”; would we still sing it if, and that’s one whopper of an if, Cesc signs? – isn’t belted out with as much gusto any more. And there are some in the Old Trafford crowd who are up for debate about another of the lines in that song too: is he better than Kleberson?
And at this point every year we find ourselves asking will this – finally – be the year that Anderson comes good? Five years ago, we were confident that it would be. Four years ago, we were a little less certain. Six years on, we’re entitled to ask just how many chances does the boy deserve?
Scott the Red put together some great analysis on this site on the cyclical nature of Anderson’s career. And it’s true. Anderson is woefully inconsistent: one great game followed by two poor ones where he can’t last 60 minutes, puffs and pants his way around the pitch like a competition winner, followed by an injury followed by a long lay-off followed by a fight to get back into consideration followed by one great game…
I’m not saying he’s fat, round, and bounces on the ground, but his career doesn’t half go round in circles (down the plughole?) That’s how he rolls.
Anderson’s United debut was against Sunderland on 1st September 2007. He lasted forty-five minutes. Was hooked at half-time, replaced by Louis Saha (who would eventually score United’s winner that day). And it would become a characteristic of his career that he’d rarely if ever complete the full 90 minutes. At the end of his first season, the Reds won the Champions League final in Moscow, with Anderson coming off the bench in the last minute of extra time. Playing just over sixty seconds meant he still had enough energy to go up and take – and score – one of our penalties.
Anderson also scored a penalty in the shootout in the League Cup final the following year. This time it was to prove the decisive kick. And it was hoped he’d really kick on in the following year. Build on his early promise and become a mainstay of the side. And things looked good on 29th July 2009 – two years to the day since he’d received his work permit – when he scored a cracking free-kick in a pre-season friendly against Boca Juniors. Indeed, he scored his first competitive goal for the Reds in September against Spurs.
But then, in early 2010, Ando chipped off to Brazil without Fergie’s permission, and the boy who was already beginning to test his manager’s patience – there were lots of rumours of Ando’s partying, indeed, if even half of them were true then he put that other Party Boy midfielder Eric sniff Djemba sniff Djemba to shame. Allegedly – suddenly had his cards marked.
For a month, Anderson buckled down. And then, just as it appeared he’d put all that nonsense behind him, disaster struck. He ruptured his cruciate ligament in a game against West Ham in February and missed the rest of the season. Worse was to come in August, when the Brazilian was involved in a serious car accident in Portugal. He returned to Carrington very much with his tail between his legs. (Not a euphemism).
Still, in 2010-11, Anderson began to fight his way back into the kind of form which had made him such a fan favourite: he added more goals too, especially in Europe, where he netted against Valencia in the group stages and twice in the Semi-Final against Schalke as United powered to the Champions League final. In December, contrary to rumours that he might be heading for the door marked EXIT, he’d been offered a new four year contract which would keep him at the club until June 2015, and he seemed more settled than we’d seen him in a Red shirt for many a month.
But this was to prove yet another false dawn. Injury once again rocked him. Initially Ando was supposed to be ruled out for three months, however a combination of niggles, tweaks and twangs conspired to keep him out of action for the remainder of the season.
Last season was supposed to be a different story, and indeed started promisingly, particularly in the League Cup, where he scored in United’s opening round tie at home to Newcastle, and then turned in a man of the match performance as a weakened United side so nearly beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, eventually losing 5-4 after extra time. But then, in December the injury curse reared its ugly head again. This time it was a hamstring injury, suffered in another topsy-turvy roller-coaster of a game, the 4-3 at Reading (in which he’d also bagged the Reds’ opener).
And so, gearing up for 2013-14, Anderson still has a lot to prove. By rights he should have now made himself first-choice, the box-to-box runner to complement Carrick’s elegant quarterbacking. But I just can’t see him making that berth his own. Don’t get me wrong. I like Anderson. But I’ve lost the faith in him I once had, when as a relative youngster he dominated the likes of Gerrard and Fabregas in central midfield battles. I no longer think he’s the answer to our seemingly eternal midfield conundrum. He remains something of a mystery wrapped up inside a predator, a watched kettle which will never come to the boil.
Six years is a very long time in football. Its only four years away from a testimonial, for Christ’s sake. Already he’s enjoyed a longer United playing career than comparative legends like Jim Holton, Arnold Muhren, Viv Anderson, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Dwight Yorke and Diego Forlan, whilst never fully imprinting himself on the collective United consciousness to the same degree as those players.
And I think it says something that of the eight caps Anderson has won at senior international level for Brazil, none have been won since the six he won in a successful 2008. The hot-blooded young man who won the Golden Ball as Brazil took silver in the 2005 FIFA under-17 world championship, who’d been tipped for greatness, has been left out in the international cold for virtually his entire United career.
He’ll start with a clean slate under Moyes though, and yet again, fans will hope. It’s just that the hope won’t be as high as it once was.
In The Guardian’s minute-by-minute commentary of United’s clash with Kitchee in Hong Kong, Daniel Harris pondered: “Apart from Ryan Giggs, has there ever been a more frustrating footballer than Anderson? He takes possession in his own half, and immediately sweeps a perfect ball forwards, into the stride of Zaha, pacing down the right. He cuts back low and hard, Anderson arriving on the edge of the box, but his shit is deflected away from the goal.”
I’m presuming Daniel means “shot” here, but shit might do just as well. Ando’s shit appears to have been deflected from its true course for much of the six years he’d been here. Let’s hope he finds the right path this season.