Is his Manchester United departure NOW set in stone?

AndersonThe future of Manchester United midfielder Anderson continues to do the rounds at the moment, with reports that manager Sir Alex Ferguson is willing to listen to offers for him at the end of the season, but should they persevere with the talented but injury-prone Brazilian or are they best getting rid altogether?

The 24-year-old arrived at Old Trafford as a raw attacking midfielder in 2007 and after a decent first campaign in England, he has struggled for the most part with both form and fitness; there’s no denying that there’s quality there, as his eight international caps highlight (the last of which was won in 2008), but the application and desire have at times been missing, with worries, much like there is with Wayne Rooney, over his fondness for the buffet table.

While talking to The Independent last month, Anderson summed up his Manchester United career well by saying: “When I take two steps forward I seem to take three back. It is sad but I have to do my job. I need to play games and not to have any injuries. I have had some problems. But when I don’t have these problems I know my quality. I know I can play.” Currently and somewhat unbelievably, he is now in his sixth league campaign at the club and has been reduced to just 93 league appearances, which comes in at just 15.5 games per season, all of which are most definitely not from the start.

He’s started just 11 games this season and featured seven times off the bench across all competitions, while he’s made just 33 appearances in the last two years. When it comes to the pecking order, with Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley firmly established as the first-choice central midfield pairing, Anderson is way down, below Ryan Giggs Phil Jones and Shinji Kagawa, while Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher continue to lurk in the shadows.

However, when you consider the long-term nature of the club’s midfield, you’d assume Anderson would be best served biding his time and sticking round, because while Cleverley is still learning his trade, Carrick is 32 years of age in the summer, Scholes could be set to retire again at the end of the current term, Fletcher’s fitness issues point to a long and difficult road to recovery and Jones may be earmarked as much for a defensive role as anywhere else. There’s clearly a fluid period just on the horizon and should Ferguson resist calls for yet another summer to bring in a defensive shield, his prospects could brighten.

Talk of a return to Brazil to boost his international chances at playing for his country in their home World Cup in 2014 refuse to go away, with some sort of third-party arrangement becoming the norm of late with returning big names, while Porto could also be interested, even if United’s valuation around the £15m mark looks both unrealistic and hugely inflated considering his recent injury troubles.

The pursuit and eventual signing of Robin van Persie and the January acquisition of Wilfried Zaha will have put a serious strain on the wage structure at the club and there may be some movement out of the exit door, with the likes of Anders Lindegaard, Nani and Alexander Buttner all remaining on the fringes of late, but crucially, would it be considered a mistake to get rid of Anderson?

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When he signed for the club and was immediately converted to a deeper-lying box-to-box midfielder in the true English style, there was consternation in Brazil at what they perceived as ruining a creative talent by not playing him in what was considered his natural position. The role involves a lot more running than he was used to and the tough nature of the defensive side of the game has clearly taken its toll on his body, but he’s a much more rounded player as a result, even if he has lost that sparkle.

He’s capable of dictating the play, but his awareness of what’s around him, and most importantly, behind him, has never been the sharpest and when used as part of a two-man partnership with Cleverley at the start of last season, while the plaudits may have rushed in for what they did going forward in an attacking sense, they were both too similar to work together long-term and they left absolutely gaping holes behind them for the opposition to exploit.

Ferguson has tinkered with different formations this term, after bringing in van Persie and Kagawa into what was already a top-heavy squad, ranging from 4-3-3, 4-4-2 and 4-4-1-1, but if the Scot would decide more on the first midfield, with Kagawa pushing forward behind the lone striker, Anderson could play that box-to-box role to good effect. Of course, the same problem of the lack of a defensive shield would be a problem and his lack of action so far has been a direct consequence of Carrick’s form and the way he’s grown into that role the past two years.

Anderson remains and always will do a deeply divisive figure, just in the same way that Nani is – his apologists argue he hasn’t been given a long enough run in the first-team to get up to speed and rely on the rare moments of quality as evidence of his talent, while his detractors simply state he doesn’t want it enough, citing his ballooning weight and partying ways as a sign he can’t be relied upon – the truth is somewhere in-between.

Moreover, every midfielder that’s shown a consistent run of form plying their trade in Europe ever since Owen Hargreaves became damaged beyond repair has quickly been labelled as the ‘perfect solution’ to the team’s midfield problems, and while their decline in Europe is evident, the 15-point lead in the top flight indicates a side on the rise again after a rebuilding phase.

It’s difficult to quantify quite where Anderson falls given his marginalisation, having confidently been proclaimed the long-term saviour of United’s systemic midfield issues. Giving him one more season is a cyclical argument that gets you nowhere, but handing him the boot after so little playing time seems unfair. With the title already in the bag, Ferguson should give the Brazilian a run of games between now and the end of the season to prove himself, and either way, a career-defining decision awaits at the end of term.

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