So Anderson’s 25 this weekend. It’s barely even worth starting a debate on whether he’s produced what we expected in his time at Old Trafford, because he clearly hasn’t. It is, however, pertinent is whether he’s ever likely to and whether he has a future at United at all.
Like many Reds, I was excited when we signed the young Brazilian six years ago. Early impressions of him were that he would eventually become a top class attacking midfielder or maybe, I thought, in the hole behind the main striker. I even pondered that he might develop physically into a player in the Rooney mould, plenty of skill but added to aggression and tenacity. After only a season with us, he had Premiership and Champions League medals, coolly slotting home his penalty in Moscow, coping admirably with the pressure and still looking every inch a player with one hell of a future.
Since then, it hasn’t so much been all downhill as reminiscent of a mountain bike journey over rocky terrain with occasional periods of smooth progress interrupting the more difficult negotiation of tricky passages and the occasional fall off his bike (read: crash in his Ferrari). There have been times, it’s true, where Anderson has enjoyed a promising run in the side (he and Cleverly looked the real deal as a midfield partnership at the beginning of 2011/12) only it to end either unfortunately through injury or through an inexplicable sudden loss of form. Now, with Carrick such a dominant figure in the United midfield, Anderson’s only function appears to be as an occasional replacement for Cleverley: the latter, over two years his junior, is well ahead of the Brazilian at the moment in terms of his usefulness to the United set up and future promise.
There’s no question Anderson has the ability to be a top player. Take him out of the highly competitive environs of the Premiership and it’s blindingly clear. I’ve seen Anderson play a number of games for the reserves, either when coming back from one of those all too frequent injuries or when simply so out of favour for the first team we’re desperate to find a game for him, and his quality is evident. Not only do you see a dynamic attacking midfield player, but someone with a whole range of tricks up his sleeve and a passing ability you really see when he plays for the first team. But again it goes without saying that we aren’t going to pay a player Anderson’s kind of wages to show off among younger and less able players. He has to do it when there’s less time allowed for thinking, when the tackles are flying in and when a mistake or poorly placed pass will be punished.
Ultimately, after six years, you expect more of a return from an expensive investment. I like Anderson’s style, think he has the technique demanded of a United player and will always remember that Champions League Final penalty. The concern has to be that, if we’ve already seen what he has and we don’t think there’s likely to be any more, why would we hang on to him in the hope of getting something more? I take no pleasure in saying it, but the belief of this Red is that a summer 2013 parting of the ways would be in the interests of both Anderson and United.