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Manchester United Players

Nani and Anderson — Managed

Roy Keane wrote in his autobiography (or at least said to the Ronaldo-hating Eamon Dunphy) that even though Sir Alex Ferguson is not the best coach, he is an incredible manager of men. And he’s proved it again this season with his exceptional handling of Nani and Anderson.

On the face of it, this was a really difficult ask. Both came to us out of the blue, with big price tags and big things to live up to. The press were totally blindsided by the speed of our moves, but when they recovered our new signings were hailed as the “next Ronaldo” and the “next Ronaldinho” respectively. Everyone dug up YouTube videos proving that these guys were the best thing since sliced bread, and some even put them straight into the first XI on general principle. To make matters worse, neither had lived in England before, and neither spoke the language.

Despite all this, Fergie ensured a smooth transition which leaves us now with two genuine stars in our squad, rather than two pissed-off, burned out and frustrated starlets.

Lowered expectations

The first part of this process was to ensure that both the press and the fans expected nothing. Whenever anyone at United was asked about them over the summer and at the start of the season, the response always came back that they were still learning, and only going to be used sparingly off the bench. It was difficult to adjust to English football, the party line went, so give these boys a season to settle in.

They did better than that. Nani was a key part of our attack in the injury-hit goal drought that was the first few matches of the season — without his screamer against Spurs, the wheels might have been off our title bid before we got started. Anderson didn’t impress on his first couple of appearances, but then came on as a sub against Wigan and dominated the game. Before we knew it, he was winning midfield battles against Gerrard and Fabregas.

But the key was that each good performance was seen as a bonus, and treated as such. There was no talk of “he’ll need a few more games like that to justify his transfer fee” or “only what you’d expect from a £17m winger”. Just good stuff, both from the fans and the media.

Quitting whilst ahead

OK, so far so good. We were impressed by most of what we’d seen, and were filing these guys in the list headed “Evra, Vidic, Ronaldo” rather than “Kleberson, Djemba-Djemba, Poborsky”. But with Giggsy underperforming, Carrick sulking and Hargreaves injured, a lot of managers (Wenger included, I think) would have decided to make them first choice starters until further notice.

Instead, Fergie held both back. Nani started only 26 games in all competitions, and Anderson only 25. Compare this to Giggs (33) and Scholes (30), supposedly fading; Carrick (39) and Tevez (39), who had patches of not starting; Rio (51) and Brown (48), the near-ever presents.

He did so differently for each player, as well. Nani was used sporadically throughout the season, whereas Anderson was allowed to play and play through the middle of the season while his confidence was high and his form was good. We saw the best of each — Nani’s trickery, shot from distance and delivery from set-pieces; Anderson’s strength, drive and (frankly) ability to run games — without having their flaws shown up by the continued glare of the spotlight.

We all know how much the English press loves to bring down the people it has just built up, and if either had been forced to play through a patch of bad form in public, you can imagine the mud that would have been slung. Instead, both can look back on the season with a warm glow, knowing they were a real part of, and positive influence on, a great side.

The velvet glove…

You may not read the tabloids (in which case, good for you), but you’re probably aware of the stories surrounding Ronaldo, Anderson and the ladies of the night. You probably do read the sports papers, and you may have noticed the lack of interviews given by Nani and Anderson.

Whilst I’m not saying that Fergie lined up prozzies to make his youngsters feel at home, it is obvious that he has allowed them to settle into Manchester in their own way. He has not sought to keep them under lock and key, something that would almost certainly have provoked discontent, but has done his best to protect them from the glare of the media off the pitch as well as on.

The final cameo

The last second CL final substitution of Anderson for Wes Brown, and the decision to allow both him and Nani to take penalties in the shoot-out, spoke volumes for both the self-confidence that they had developed over the season (not to mention the trust the gaffer was prepared to put in them). It would have been so easy to get the experienced heads to step up (I expected to see Giggsy before then), but what a sensational boost for the two lads to take into next season.

I know this post is unremittingly positive, which can be a bit boring. I’m not sure I’m even being that controversial. Far more fun to nit-pick over Rooney’s performance or Carrick’s value for money. But this superbly thought out, flexible management of two players who will now be an integral part of our team and squad for the next five years must be recognised for the achievement it is.