Anderson: the rise and rapid decline of a player once touted as the world’s best youngster

Anderson: the rise and rapid decline of a player once touted as the world’s best youngster

Blackpool’s solitary season in the Premier League was certainly an eventful one. Under the eccentric guidance of Ian Holloway, it started in the best possible fashion, with a 4-0 thrashing of Wigan Athletic. It would go on to feature standout results such as wins over Liverpool and Tottenham, but end with the club needing to win on the final day at Old Trafford.

Already crowned champions, the hosts took the lead early through Ji-Sung Park, although Blackpool turned it around to lead 2-1. Unfortunately, they were to face United on one of the few occasions Anderson Luís de Abreu Oliveira produced a performance befitting of his early reputation. To begin, he restored parity, converting Park’s squared cross into Matt Gilks’ top left corner, for just his second Premier League goal in four seasons.

Shortly after, an Ian Evatt own goal put Blackpool behind, before Anderson played a cutting through ball from midfield for Michael Owen to run onto. The former Liverpool man hadn’t even begun his run, but such was Anderson’s vision that he was able to create the chance, which Owen duly finished. It sent Blackpool down, triggering a slide that would see the Lancashire club drop to the fourth tier in just six seasons.

Returning to Anderson, at this point life appeared good. Ending that afternoon with a Premier League winners medal around his neck, the third such honour of his career, he was playing a part for one of the world’s top clubs. Not that he knew it, but during the time it took Blackpool to reach League Two, Anderson would find himself on a decline all as steep as the club he had just helped relegate.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this for the Brazilian. Signing in July 2007 from Porto, such was the player’s potential that his initially rejected work permit was granted because of the “exceptional talent he will bring to the Premier League”. This had already seen him named the best player at the Under-17 World Cup in 2005. Anderson was widely viewed as a star in the making.

Born in Ronaldinho’s hometown of Porto Alegre, Anderson started his career with local side Grêmio. Such similar career paths sprung up early comparisons to the two-time World Player of the Year, although upon his arrival in Manchester, Anderson issued a grounded message: “Ronaldinho is Ronaldinho, Anderson is Anderson.” It was a simple statement, but one that also carried a deeper meaning.

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At the age of 14 his father passed away, with Anderson’s position as oldest son placing him at the head of the household. Meanwhile, many of his childhood friends turned to drugs and violence, passing away during their teenage years. It was a hard upbringing, one which required Anderson to learn who he was from an early age. All the money the player earnt through football was sent home to help his three siblings and mother Doralice, who worked two jobs to fund her child’s talent.

As a result of his mother’s perseverance, Anderson made his first-team debut at 16, scoring a free-kick against bitter rivals Internacional. Relegated in his first season, he would go on to score the goal against Náutico to send Grêmio back to the top flight, in a game his side ended with seven players. Such a big impact meant it wasn’t long before he was attracting interest beyond Brazil, and so, in June 2005, Anderson followed the well-trodden path of Brazilian players by signing for Porto.

FIFA rules, however, prevented him moving until his 18th birthday, which wasn’t for another year. In order to get around this his mother also relocated, allowing Anderson to transfer on family grounds. Officially moving to Porto in January 2006, manager Co Adriaanse purposely left him out of the squad so to avoid alerting other European clubs to his ability and ensure one full season with the Brazilian at his disposal.

Consequently, he only played five times in his maiden campaign, although was thrust straight into the action the following season. Handed the prestigious number 10 shirt, Anderson scored in the season-opening 3-0 Supertaça victory over Vitória Setúbal, also registering assists in his first two league matches. In September 2006 he made his Champions League debut, capping what was an incredible rise.

This was curtailed after a terrible challenge by Benfica’s Kostas Katsouranis in October. The broken leg suffered by Anderson was to keep him out until the new year, and he only returned in the reverse of that fixture in April 2007. He ended the season with three goals and five assists from 19 games, but there was far more to Anderson than these numbers.

Many were amazed by the youngster’s talent, not just his dribbling, passing and technique, but his ability to dictate the tempo of a match. There were also lightning bursts of speed and fantastic strength for a player standing at just five foot seven inches. Links emerged with José Mourinho’s Chelsea – owing to Anderson’s ties to the GestiFute agency of Jorge Mendes – and Real Madrid. Therefore, the move to Manchester came as something of a surprise.

Sir Alex Ferguson sent his brother Martin to watch several games, and the response was a glowing plea to sign him. Sir Alex duly obliged, showing no hesitation to spend nearly £20m on a teenager who had started fewer than 30 professional games. Such was the rate of his ascent that Brazil manager Dunga named the uncapped 19-year-old in his squad for the 2007 Copa América.

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Following victory in Venezuela, Anderson returned to Europe ready to hit the ground running. The death of his father had prepared him for life in Manchester, with the player telling The Guardian how even at 15 he had the mental attitude of a 24-year-old. Such maturity impressed Ferguson, with the Scot opting to hand the Brazilian his debut in the early September clash with Sunderland. He was used in a similar role to the one he had at Porto, sitting just behind Wayne Rooney in the hole. 

He was ineffective, however, hauled off at half-time, and quickly found his position adjusted to a deeper role. This has since been attributed to the challenge from Katsouranis, which saw Anderson lose a yard of pace he never got back. In total he played 38 times in his debut season, although he registered more medals than contributions to goals. A failure to find the net from over 2,200 minutes of football was a disappointment, although he did convert when it mattered most, firing home his spot-kick in the Champions League final shootout win over Chelsea.

After a season settling in, what could have been a break out season was instead hampered by injury. Anderson found himself in and out of the side, although for the second successive season partook in a Champions League final, where he was substituted for Carlos Tevez at half-time in a 2-0 loss to Barcelona. Regardless of this lack of contribution, he had by now established himself as a cult favourite for United fans, who gave him a catchy chant famously comparing the midfielder to Cesc Fàbregas. 

The 2009/10 season began with a long overdue first goal for the club, an instinctive rebound finish from the edge of the area in a 3-1 win at Tottenham. By now, though, cracks from the notoriously happy Brazilian were starting to show. There was a well-documented fall out with Ferguson in January 2010, where the manager questioned his lack of professionalism and dropped him from the matchday squad for several games. Then, a month later, he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament against West Ham, with ruling Anderson out for the rest of the season.

During this layoff he returned to Portugal for a period, where he was involved in a 7am car crash to only further antagonise his manager. Anderson returned to the side in early September and, despite being in-and-out of the line-up owing to another injury problem in February 2011, helped United to another Premier League title. Of particular note in this campaign was his brace in the 4-1 semi-final second leg win over Schalke, which ensured a third Champions League final in four years for the Brazilian. He was an unused substitute in this one, however, which again ended in defeat to Barcelona.

Another knee injury largely voided his 2011/12 season, with hamstring issues hampered the following one, which again culminated in a Premier League winner’s medal. Of significance was the departure of Ferguson, a man who was uncharacteristically loyal and persistent with Anderson. The impact of the Scot on Anderson is clear, with the Brazilian one of many former players to simply refer to him as “the boss”.

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The nationality of the man in the dugout remained the same, although David Moyes’ view of Anderson was markedly different. Anderson’s supposed lack of commitment was at odds with Moyes’ hard-working ethos, meaning during the first half of the season he played for a grand total of 247 minutes. In January 2014 he was shipped out to Fiorentina, and despite Vincenzo Montella showing initial faith in the loanee, poor form meant by April he was once again reduced to a place on the bench.

The Brazilian returned to Old Trafford with Moyes having been sacked, although his replacement was even less impressed. Louis van Gaal is notoriously selective over his players and took a dim view of Anderson’s attitude and weight. Having been so frequently injured, the player failed to undertake the required amount of fitness training to quickly get back to peak condition. During his rehabilitation he was also known to eat junk food, something which only increased his rate of physical deterioration. 

A key role in the infamous 4-0 loss at MK Dons was followed by a fleeting 20-minute substitute appearance at Burnley four days later. After that Anderson was never seen in a United shirt again. Still only 26, he failed to make a matchday squad, eventually returning to Brazil in January 2015.

Joining Grêmio’s bitter rivals Internacional, things showed no sign of improvement. On his debut against Cruzeiro he missed a penalty, going on to become the target of abuse from his own fans after a 5-0 loss in the Grenal derby. The final straw was a training ground bus- up with teammate William in October 2016 that saw Anderson suspended. He did return to the side later that month, although this coincided with Inter being relegated for the first time in their 107-year history.

The following season saw Anderson loaned to top-flight Coritiba, although a continued lack of impact on the pitch resulted in another relegation. In his absence, Inter bounced back at the first time of asking, and with Anderson’s loan at Coritiba done, his contract was terminated in January 2018. Still only 29, he spent the next six months unattached, eventually deciding the next step was a return to Europe.

In late July he signed with Turkish second-tier outfit Adana Demirspor, a historic club from the south of the country. Having supposedly received advice from former teammates Pepe and Ricardo Quaresma, the player looked unenthused during his unveiling. He is also clearly still overweight, and as the highest paid player in the 1. Lig, it would be no surprise to see this move also backfire.

The club have started the new season well, sitting in the playoff spots, although Anderson is of little importance to this. So far he has only played once, in the third round of the Türkiye Kupası against Yeni Orduspor, having been omitted from all squads in the league. Once upon a time world’s football’s golden boy, Anderson’s career now looks hopelessly tarnished.

By James Kelly @jkell403

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