By Tom Coast
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Marmite. You either love it or hate it. The same can be said about Anderson Luís de Abreu Oliveira, more commonly known as Anderson, within the Manchester United community.
Anderson joined Manchester United from Porto at the beginning of the 2007-2008 season for a reported hefty fee of around £20 million. From that moment onwards, pressure was on him to deliver straight away. What a lot forget is that Anderson joined at the age of 19, having only just recovered from a horrific leg injury meaning Sir Alex Ferguson had to give him time to adjust to England and get his fitness back.
Back then comparisons with Ronaldinho were being broadcasted all over the media. Both started their careers at Gremio and both are Brazilian but in all fairness, that is where the comparisons end. Whilst Ronaldinho is known for his tricks and flicks, Anderson’s game has never been about showing off and attempting over-complicated skills. On the contrary, Anderson was always renowned for his bustling energy, ability to drive through the midfield and accelerate past slower midfielders with ease; something he demonstrated in his first few seasons with the club. An excellent article by Duncan Castles published on the Guardian website gives a good insight to his personality.
However, one detail that, five years on, people choose to ignore or seem to overlook is that, ever since making the switch to England, Anderson has never played in the position he played at Porto. In Portugal and for the Brazil youth teams, Anderson played in a more advanced. In the past, Anderson played in a very similar position to where David Silva plays nowadays for Manchester City: behind the striker(s), drifting out wide to the left. There, he was fully able to use his acceleration to get past players and create opportunities for himself or his teammates.
When Sir Alex Ferguson brought him to Manchester, he immediately decided to move him back up the field alongside another midfielder. At the time, Manchester United had the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani on the wings with Rooney and Tevez up front, so his chances to play in his favoured position were very limited. Considering everything, Anderson adapted rather well. In an interview with MUTV in 2009 (probably one of the only ones available in English), he admitted that he had to change his style of play to fit in at Manchester United, focusing a lot more on defensive work. This can be seen in his battling performances in midfield, using his strength (and rather large backside) to his advantage to shield the ball from his opponent in order to keep possession and pick out a pass. Remember that performance against Fabregas away from home? Didn’t they make a song about it?
During the 2008 season when Manchester United lifted the Champions League, Anderson played 9 of the 13 games on the road to victory and scored a penalty during the shootout (albeit not the best) in the final against Chelsea. During his first two seasons, Anderson took part in 76 games for Manchester United, 41 of them in the league. Not too shabby considering that a lot of the time, his competition consisted of Scholes, Carrick, Fletcher and Hargreaves (who at the time was in his prime).
Since then, Anderson’s career has been hindered greatly by injuries, mostly related to his knees. Rumour has it that “behind the scenes”, people are blaming his weight for this. But when his first major injury came on the 23rd of February 2010 in a game against West Ham, Anderson had enjoyed a great run in the team, scoring his first competitive goal against Tottenham and was in rather good shape. It is only during his convalescence that he picked up a bit of extra weight.
Regarding the weight, Anderson has never been a slight character. He has always looked rather stocky and as previously stated, uses that to his advantage against opponents. Whether or not he puts on weight or loses it, he will always appear to be on the large side. This is because Anderson is someone with an endomorphic body type. This means that he retains fat easily and finds it harder to shed it. To makes things a bit clearer, there are 3 types of body types: endomorphic (Anderson, Rooney etc…), mesomorphic (Drogba, Ferdinand etc…) and ectomorphic (Crouch, Fletcher etc…). As you may well have guessed, mesomorphs find it easier to put on muscle and achieve a “stacked” body whereas ectomorphs are leaner characters.
Don’t get me wrong; this is not an excuse for Anderson. As a footballer, he should work twice as hard as an endomorph to shed his weight just as Rooney did but with a lot of convalescence and inability to do cardio work with knee injuries, it seems understandable that he is more prone to gaining weight than others.
After his injuries, Anderson came back in the 2010-2011 season and played 30 games, helping Manchester United to the final of the Champions League once more with a brace in the semi-final against Schalke, doubling his Manchester United tally in the process. This brings us to this year, the favourite season for Anderson haters. Only 10 games played in the league and 16 overall. Inconsistency & laziness are two words that recur a lot when discussions about Anderson crop up. Last season, Anderson achieved an average 85% pass completion rate in the league with 96% in the 2-1 win over West Brom and 97% in his early return from injury in that woeful 3-2 loss vs Blackburn. Hardly inconsistent.
It is understandable for fans to get annoyed at a player who, amidst injuries, plays woefully and fails to perform, but whenever Anderson has come back from injury, he has always given it his all. Remember that 7-1 victory over Blackburn during the 2010-2011 season? This was his first start in over a month. In that game, Anderson completed 95 out 99 passes, getting an assist in the process.
Regarding laziness, the main argument here is that he has not mastered the English language yet. Who cares? Manchester City fans don’t complain that Carlos Tevez still cannot speak the language despite having been in the country for longer. As long as Anderson can get his message across on the pitch to his teammates, that is all that matters. And so what if he does not give interviews left, right and centre? Anyone who has ever watched Anderson or even met him will know that he is an extremely shy person and does not particularly like being the centre of attention.
At 24, Anderson isn’t old but isn’t exactly young either. He has reached the time in his career where he needs to completely prove himself in order to guarantee himself a future at Old Trafford. Having had a lot of time off due to his recent injury, Anderson seems to have shed a fair bit of weight and looks fitter and ready for the new season. Fans who are calling for a new midfielder in order to compete in the Champions League, let me remind you of one statistic: every year Anderson managed to end the season or remain fit for large portions of it, Manchester United reached the final of the Champions League. Coincidence? I’ll let you decide on that one.
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