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Last chance saloon at Old Trafford?

Manchester United midfielder Anderson is at a crossroads in his career at Old Trafford; one more season interrupted by injury and poor form will surely see him shipped out to bring an end to a frustrating six year-spell at the club, but is he even up to the task in hand?

The Brazilian midfielder signed from the club back in 2007-8 for a fee in the region of £17m from Portuguese club Porto with a burgeoning reputation as a creative attacking midfielder off the back of some superb performances for his country at the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championship where he won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player as Brazil took silver. There is clearly a player there, or was to be more precise, there was, which is what makes him such an infuriating figure.

Upon moving to England, though, Sir Alex Ferguson set about altering his style from a creative attacking midfielder into more of a box-to-box midfielder and it’s been a bumpy transition, with the 24 year-old failing to score in his first two seasons at all, while enduring a series of muscle and joint-based injuries, which would indicate that he struggles to cope with the physical rigours of the position and the league in general.

I’ve long thought that his reputation in his debut season, where it appeared that everyone thought he was brilliant, was built more upon two superb eye-catching performances in the big televised games against Liverpool that term as opposed to any real consistent form and he’s struggled to put together a decent run ever since to be honest, not making more than 20 league appearances in his last four seasons. He plays the game at a lively tempo, which the at times static midfield at the club could do with a bit more of and he’s got a decent range of passing, but he needs to prove it over a sustained period to be truly worthy of another shot.

There’s also the fact that last season, while back in Brazil, that he was fined for refusing to take a breathalyzer test after being pulled over by the police, not to mention his ballooning weight problems prior to pre-season and he starts to represent something of a lost cause. Can the club really afford to carry him for another year?

With Tom Cleverley equally as injury-prone, Darren Fletcher ruled out with a long-term illness for the foreseeable future and both Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs coming to the end of their respective careers, the midfield department at United looks threadbare with options. Anderson featured just three times after the turn of the year last campaign and they simply cannot afford for him to do the same this term. Add into the mix that the club have bought Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell this summer and it looks as if Ferguson is preparing for the worst-case scenario already.

Anderson said of his injury troubles last term: “The last two years have been very difficult,” he told reporters. No-one wants a player who has a lot of injuries. But I am still young. I am only 24. And I believe I can get through this. All summer I stayed in Europe to work on my knee. Now I am 100%. I don’t have any more injuries. I don’t have a problem. This is a very big season for me. The thing is, if I stay fit, I can be that player. I can be a success at United. You have seen, when I don’t have a problem, I play well. The problems come when I have an injury. After six or seven games last season it felt as though one leg was 30% weaker than the other.”

The problem with Anderson has never been his talent, nor his potential, but his application and his determination, two key values which United fans appreciate more than anything. He doesn’t quite have the discipline to play a holding role, and his partnership alongside Tom Cleverley at the start of last season, which has been cited by the pro-Anderson brigade that he’s worthy of another shot, saw the central midfield area riddled with gaping holes in it as time and time again the opposition just seemed to walk right through it at will.

He can deliver the odd brilliant performance, and somewhat unusually, in big games as opposed to the more routine ones, with decent showings against Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham last term, but it’s that crucial consistency which is sorely lacking and at £17m –  it’s bizarre that Alberto Aquilani is often touted as a huge flop whereas Anderson has been just as bad to be honest and cost roughly the same fugure. The club would do well to see any sort of return on their investment at the moment and I’m not entirely sure whether a club in Europe would take such a risk if they did decide to sell him.

Liverpool fans are often mocked for the “this will be our year” schtick, although I can’t say I’ve actually met one of these mythical fans ever before, but Anderson apologists are just as bad, “if he stays injury free, he could be a top-class midfielder, this will be his year” – his continued support from some sections of the terraces is just plain bizarre.

In his defence, he has had a torrid time with injuries and he’s still pretty young, so there’s plenty of time to prove himself over the course of his career, but his time away on the treatment table is far too often used as an all too convenient excuse by his supporters and truth be told, nobody is really sure what he’s capable of delivering over the course of a long campaign, stretched over four competitions, and that’s the most concerning thing of all.

Hope in this instance is blind and there’s no real evidence that he’s good enough these days. Blinkered fans would do well to remember that after six years at Old Trafford, he is still something of an unknown quantity, which tells you everything you need to know about how poor and frustrating he’s been. Talk about Anderson is always centered on the word ‘if’, but if he has one more iffy season, then you wouldn’t begrudge Ferguson for cutting his losses and getting rid at the end of the season.

You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1

Article title: Last chance saloon at Old Trafford?

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