They say love is blind. Never has there been a truer word spoken when it comes to football fans.
Just look at the examples from the past 12 months, with the backing of Luis Suarez and John Terry by nobody but their own supporters. All logic goes out of the window when you are defending your own player from criticism – especially that which has been directed from opposition or that journalist who seems to always be digging at your club.
A defensive football fan can be compared to Eastenders’ very own Peggy Mitchell. Peggy was ‘that mum’ who would protect her boys Phil and Grant, no matter what they did. Theft? Adultery? Murder? “Nope, not my boys,” Peggy would say.
With the above in mind, it baffles me how such a talented individual as Anderson can receive as much criticism as he does, on such a regular basis, from his own fans. Signed from Porto in July 2007 for a fee reported to be £20m, Anderson joined United with expectation on his shoulders.
A combination of things ensured the pressure was on from day one:
- It was a large fee for you young player.
- He is Brazilian, therefore must be good.
- He was moving across from the Portuguese league. The last player who had joined United from that division was on his way to becoming the greatest player of his generation.
So after five years in a red shirt, where are we in the whole ‘Anderson’ debate?
Last week, the 24-year-old Brazilian international played in the cup tie at Stamford Bridge. Up against some real heavyweight midfielders in Mikel, Ramirez, Oscar and Mata, he controlled the tempo of the game and dictated a lot of the play. This isn’t a one-off or a new occurrence as many pundits, bloggers or fans would like to suggest it is.
If we journey back to August 2011, Anderson started the season in fine form. Playing alongside Tom Cleverley; the samba star looked fitter, quicker and hungrier (cue the jokes) than he had in the previous few seasons at Old Trafford. Could the retirement of Paul Scholes, or the change in our midfield shape have given Anderson a new lease of life, or was it merely that our eyes were deceived? Beating Chelsea 3-1 and Arsenal 8-2, I guess anybody on the pitch for either of those games would have been mistaken for world class.
The fact is, Anderson was enjoying his football and playing incredibly well. This came to a halt when he was hit with an injury – one of which he failed to properly recover from, meaning by the end of the campaign, he was no longer in the starting XI, and if we are brutally honest, struggling to make the bench.
The summer of 2012 saw a host of journalists along with many of the Old Trafford faithful predict an exit for the former Porto man. Had Sir Alex lost patience in waiting for the ball player to come good? It was clear many fans had. One thing was for sure – Manchester United were in the market for a superstar. A marquee name had to be brought in to bolster the squad, raise the bar for those already at the club and send a message to the rest of the league. We will never know how close Wesley Sneijder or Luca Modric actually were to joining United – but for me, United did not, and still do not, need either player.
Although this potential world class name heading for Old Trafford was expected to be a central midfielder, possibly a replacement for the failing Anderson – the bigger picture was seen by Sir Alex, and Robin Van Persie was brought in. Despite murmurs of discontent and claims that RVP would prevent the development of Welbeck and Hernandez, I firmly believe a striker over a midfielder was the correct decision. Robin Van Persie joining the club is a key part in a vital transition period at Old Trafford. He, alongside a more consistent Danny Welbeck and a deadly Javier Hernandez, gives the squad a different look, with less reliance on Wayne Rooney in attack. For a long time, United relied on the form of Rooney – if he had a bad day, United had a bad day.
This season, that doesn’t seem to be the case. At times we have seen Rooney work his own 18-yard box, breaking up opposition attacks. By bringing in a new striker, we have seen a knock-on effect which benefits every other area of the squad. The ‘total football’ philosophy brought to us by the Spanish national side over the past few years in which a striker can play in midfield, and a midfield can play in defence is probably the basis Sir Alex wanting his players to learn to adapt to new roles. It can help in game tactical solutions and when there are a host of injuries.
A like for like replacement in central midfield over the summer may have worked, but it would have also meant the rest of the squad were likely to remain stagnant – something which United have suffered from in recent times.
So far in this campaign, Carrick and Cleverley have been outstanding; United have not relied on Scholes and Giggs as much as in previous seasons; but the biggest point is that we are not being dominated in the middle of the park, no matter who plays – due to Rooney or Kagawa dropping deep.
For me, Anderson isn’t far away from making a first team place his own – and if he can stay fit; he will be pushing Carrick and Cleverley for that place. With Van Persie joining in the summer and that transfer money not being invested on a ‘world class central midfielder’ as many had expected, it has changed the whole dimension of the squad and given our Brazilian midfield maestro one final opportunity to convince the Old Trafford faithful that he has what it takes to make a position his own.
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Steve has been lucky enough to be at both the 1999 and 2008 Champions League finals, seeing Manchester United lift the biggest trophy in the World, none more exciting than that faithful night in Barcelona in 99.
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