Over the past few months, many supporters and bloggers alike have been dissecting the current Manchester United squad, attempting to divine what it already does well and what it currently lacks.
The consensus that I seem to get from the faithful on twitter and on the blogs I read is that United are in desperate need of a true box-to-box midfielder, a pacey winger who can chip in some goals, a creative midfielder, a keeper, a centre back, etc.
The most generally agreed upon present need, aside from keeper, is this box-to-box midfielder. A player who can be a conduit between Rio, Nemanja, Rooney, Berbatov and Hernandez. He ideally has the strength to win any ball, the ability to play a pass and be a presence in the middle that prevents teams like Arsenal from playing it narrow. Classically players like Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Owen Hargreaves (to name a few) have played this role to perfection. Last season Darren Fletcher played the position very well and Michael Carrick has shown it in fits and starts this term. But there is a player who is hardly mentioned by supporters that has the necessary tools to excel in that position for years to come. And his name? Anderson.
Sir Alex Ferguson signed the Brazilian from FC Porto with the assumption that Anderson would develop into a Scholes-type of player, one who could support a striker expertly and chip in with a few goals too. And at Porto and for the Brazil U-17’s Anderson was that type of player. He won the Golden Ball at the U-17 World Cup in 2007 and scored two goals in nine starts for Porto.
Brought to United on a fee of around 17 million pounds, much was expected of Anderson. The press were referring to him as ‘the next Ronaldinho’ and many in the support, including myself, salivated at the thought of signing a player of that calibre at just 18 years of age. During his first season at United, Anderson won himself a committed following from the faithful and inspired one of the best player-related chants in the Premier League.
While he was unable to score in 24 starts in all competitions during his debut season, one could sense that Anderson had all of the skills necessary to succeed at the club. He had at least proven that he was indeed better than Kleberson (what anawful signing that was…) and he did shit on Fabregas. Anderson also scored a vital penalty in the Champions League Final in Moscow, helping United to its third European Cup. The Brazilian started to be compared to Roy Keane once the press gave up on the Ronaldinho comparisons with every wayward shot.
During the 2008/2009 season Anderson continued his development, but was not able to nail down a regular place in Sir Alex’s first team only starting eleven matches in the Premier League. Manchester United would go on to win their third straight Premier League title with Carrick and Fletcher, along with cameos by Paul Scholes, playing most of the important matches. The press began to report that Anderson was seeking a move away from United to get more playing time, Inter among the supposed interested parties.
And last season Anderson finally broke his Premier League duck, scoring a goal in the 3-1 win versus Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. It proved to be his defining moment of the season, as he spent the duration of last year on the treatment table after suffering a serious knee injury. Supporters began to wonder what would become of their beloved midfield magician. Would he ever shit on Fabregas again in a United shirt? Could he ever deliver on the immense promise he had shown in flashes during his debut season?
This season Anderson has enjoyed his most prolonged stretch of good form. He started nearly every match from September 29, a Champions League group stage match versus Valencia, through February 19 in the FA Cup versus Crawley Town. During that stretch, Anderson only missed the January 4 clash against Stoke City and the February 5 match versus Wolverhampton. His form was such that Sir Alex Ferguson rewarded him with a five year extension to remain at Old Trafford for the foreseeable future.
Anderson consistently showed that he was United-quality, turning in tough, classy performances, one after the other. His indomitable spirit and strength covered for an out of form Fletcher, an enigmatic Carrick and an aging Scholes. Anderson patrolled the midfield well and contributed a goal and two assists. While he may not be the attacking midfielder Sir Alex and all of us thought we had signed, Anderson has demonstrated an ability to be an excellent box-to-box midfielder.
United ought to move a box-to-box midfielder down its list of transfer priorities. Anderson, if given more minutes during the run in, ought to provide that missing presence in the midfield that has been lacking in stretches this season. Signing a player like Jack Rodwell for the rumoured price (in excess of 20 million pounds) would be more than a bit kamikaze, especially if United already have a player in the first time of being the man in the middle for years to come. Anderson just turned 23 last week and has his best football ahead of him. Sir Alex would be better served using 20 million on players like Alexis Sanchez, Nuri Sahin (whose exit clause is six million euro) and David De Gea.
To the left to the right to the samba beat tonight…