Connect in the back of the net

Six summers have passed since Manchester United entered into the transfer market to splash £35 million on two players who were regarded, at the time, as a pair of the most coveted talents in Portuguese football. Nani was 20 years old when he arrived at Old Trafford from Sporting Lisbon whilst Anderson was just 18 when he moved from Porto as Sir Alex Ferguson looked to the future after wrestling the Premier League title back from Chelsea.

More than half a decade into that future has passed and both of Manchester United’s Portuguese league football imports face pivotal seasons. The delegation that were so instrumental in brokering their big money move to Manchester, David Gill, Carlos Queiroz and Ferguson, have all since moved on, leaving David Moyes and his new set-up to run the rule on the pair.

It is a judgement that United’s new manager will have to make carefully with both player’s contracts due to expire in the near future, next summer in the case of Nani, and with both being the subject of speculation regarding possible moves away from the club.

Nani has been linked with the likes of Zenit St Petersburg and Monaco as suitors sense a potential cheap deal, whilst Anderson has been mentioned in a possible return to Porto after a recent couple of seasons tarred by frustrating inconsistency had befallen both players.

Moyes however, seems willing to reserve judgement on the duo, featuring Anderson in the pre-season tour of Asia, even handing him a rare 90 minutes in the game against Kitchee, whereas there has been talk of a new contract for Nani, who has missed a large majority of United’s season preparations with injury.

During his time at Everton, Moyes would have been made aware of the talent the Portuguese winger offered United. It is just two years since he was named their player of the year after being influential in the Premier League triumph of 2011 and his flashes of brilliance have made him a vital part of the squad.

Unfortunately, that’s just what he has restricted them to, flashes; the odd excellent goal of cross here, the odd excellent performance there. It was his ability to produce unexpected brilliance that convinced Ferguson to trust him in last season’s huge Champions League tie with Real Madrid at Old Trafford. Cue Nani to show himself in microcosm, playing excellently as United took the lead before a moment of madness saw him get sent off, changing the game.

The game with Madrid was 1 of Nani’s 17 appearances in a campaign blighted by injury, but also Ferguson’s tiring patience with his fluctuant displays. It was telling that the Scot went to the unusual step of blaming his winger individually for the League Cup exit at Chelsea, before £15 million was spent on Wilfried Zaha, the emerging flying wide-man of Crystal Palace, in January, seen as a potential challenge to Nani’s future.

Though Moyes seems willing to give him a chance under the new regime, the 27 year old will also have to impress Paulo Bento, Portugal’s coach, who has told him to rediscover his first team spot or risk losing out to the blossoming Vieirinha in a World Cup year.

There will be no similar fears of missing out on a World Cup for Anderson having not been capped since 2008, though his initial development into the Brazil set-up, in which he won player of the tournament at the 2005 Under-17 World Championship and a place in Dunga’s provisional squad for the 2006 Copa America, is testimony to his ability to fail to realise his potential.

At Old Trafford, the midfielder has failed to live up to his £17 million price-tag, often appearing lethargic in the centre of the field and used sparingly by Ferguson despite the ageing of Paul Scholes. Anderson has failed to make over 20 appearances in one league season since his debut season in 2007. Perhaps it is a record owing to his woeful fitness record, out of the 96 league games he has played since arriving six years ago, the 25 year old has completed the full 90 minutes just 19 times.

Disciplinary action for a trip to Brazil made without permission, rumours of over-excessive partying, a bad record with injuries and a serious car accident in his homeland have all hit Anderson during his time with Manchester United and the cynic may argue that Ferguson’s continued faith in the midfielder was simply based on a refusal to admit he was wrong to part with such a large amount of money for the then-teenager.

One would easily realise the folly in using Anderson as a consistent replacement for Paul Scholes despite his transition into a deeper-lying combative midfielder under Ferguson. It is clear Moyes employs the same thinking given his search for midfield reinforcements that has lurched, seemingly desperately, from Thiago Alcantara to Cesc Fabregas.

With Tom Cleverley, the converted Ryan Giggs, the returning Darren Fletcher or even the young Nick Powell, as well as the possible new addition that Moyes seems intent on bringing in, competing for the midfield slot alongside Michael Carrick, Anderson faces a huge battle in his quest for a more regular spot in the first team.

It is a battle that both players are preparing to embark on, one that has their Manchester United futures at stake. Ferguson showed patience and persistence in his eagerness for his £35 million double-deal to become a success, though Moyes is unlikely to be as understanding as he looks to shape his squad with new contracts and rumoured departures on the agenda.

It is a big year for all of the Manchester United squad as they face life without Ferguson, but it is even bigger for Nani and Anderson. Frustrating, sporadic, inconsistent, no more excuses.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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