Now the furore of Sunday’s headline grabbing exploits by Mascherano have somewhat calmed, let’s take a minute to observe the “side issue” – the fact that Manchester United crushed Liverpool 3-0. In fact, extending the study a little more individual will show us that for the second time this season, Anderson performed while Gerrard was anonymous.
Back in October, everyone was forced to sit up and take notice of the young Brazilian when his performance at the Emirates put Cesc Fabregas firmly in the shadow – particularly considering that in the build up to the fixture, Fabregas was being hailed as “the best player in the world”. In December, Anderson was entrusted with shackling Steven Gerrard, but as before, the job description didn’t entirely reflect the actual performance, as it was Gerrard struggling to compete with the dominant ex-Porto star.
The stabilisers were off and when Fabregas travelled with Arsenal for an FA Cup tie in February, he was thoroughly outplayed and embarrassed by Anderson, to the point where Wenger had to take off the young Spaniard. Fast forward to last Sunday, and it was no longer a question of whether Anderson had to “contain” Gerrard.
No longer a question – a statement of the rapid development from arrival to dominant force – but this only serves to illustrate the major contrast of the perceived failure of South Americans at Old Trafford in the preceding generation. Seba Veron, Kleberson and Diego Forlan are all prime examples of quality footballers who never really settled in Manchester, the reason unclear, but the resultant message very clear – Fergie should not sign footballers from this continent. Excitement surrounding the possibility of the arrival of Ronaldinho from PSG in 2003 was met with anxiety considering the track record.
The reason for the transformation is not totally clear, but it is certain that Carlos Querioz has played a major part in it – Cristiano Ronaldo settling and now bursting through the stratosphere (indeed, Ronaldo’s presence is probably a key factor to the ease Nani and Anderson have settled) set a new blueprint and culture for Portuguese speaking footballers at Old Trafford.
Aside from Anderson, Carlos Tevez, too, has quickly taken to his new club – critics will say how he has looked jaded of late, but those same critics neglect to mention the fact he has played football without a break for almost a year, being thrust into this season from the off after injuries to Rooney and Saha. At the peak of his form in the Autumn, he was simply sensational, and though we still expect him to perform, it will be next season we should really expect him at his best again.
Nani has shown flashes of brilliance, particularly in the big games – his elevation is such that inclusion in the first XI in a big game would not be a surprise or a disappointment.
Rodrigo Possebon, a low key January signing, played the recent reserve fixture against Liverpool and Xavi Alonso like he was auditioning for a role of “Anderson v Fabregas, FA Cup” – (anyone thinking “Possebon..” Carlsberg style t-shirts? Copyright!), and at that sort of development pace he should be knocking on the door of the first team for at least a chance in pre-season.
Everyone had a chuckle when it was announced United had signed a pair of Brazilian twins, but in Fabio and Rafael we really have stolen a march on our rivals – Fabio was the much heralded U17 captain but plays at left back (strictly speaking, although watching him, you get the impression he can play at ease in most positions) so may not get a chance as quick as his brother, although both are right footed. Both were magnificent in the U17 World Cup last year, and play with the traditional Brazilian full-back saunter.
The good news gets better – none of this seems to be at the expense of our English core – Ben Foster is just about ready for the first team, Ferdinand and Brown are at their peaks, Hargreaves and Carrick will jostle for midfield positions for the next 4 or 5 years, and Wayne Rooney will hopefully have another generation leading the line. And better still, rather than the style of play changing, it feels like a 21st century makeover, but still stamped with the Manchester United trademark – dazzling wing play, flamboyancy and showmanship, all out attack, even defenders with a swagger and arrogance.
The “upgrade”, if you like, is the addition of the South American and Portuguese samba style – previously ineffectual but presently, slowly but surely, transforming (hopefully) this current United side into one that dominates for its second generation underneath Sir Alex, possibly and hopefully providing us with some of the best football ever seen in Britain.
The resolve of the side in recent weeks to get a last minute draw at Spurs and persist to get a win at Derby draw comparisons from the 99 side – and in Nani, Anderson, Ronaldo, we have an audacity that not even that all conquering side could match, save for some Ryan Giggs European night specials from 1997-2002. The kind of arrogance that the Theatre of Dreams became renowned for – think Best taking off his boot, think Eric either sticking his chest out or juggling the ball past City’s defence, think Giggs bewildering the Juventus defence, and now, think Ronaldo’s stepovers, think Anderson kicking dust in Gerrards face for 70 yards, think the sheer outrageous talent of Nani flicking the ball up, needing three Arsenal defenders to hack and kick at him just to stop the embarrassment. It’s the speed and flair of the 1994 team married (potentially) with the guts and resilience of the 1999 side.
It’s a tall order but it is the poser that has often been asked this season – indeed, even on this site – could this United side be the best ever? Well, maybe it could, but rather than that, maybe it’s just the natural transition of “the United way”.
The next 8 weeks will provide some answers to the above.