Man United FC

Sir Alex Ferguson signed star who could’ve been “best in the world” but he “didn’t care”

During Sir Alex Ferguson's storied reign, Manchester United welcomed their fair share of superstars to Old Trafford, but there were also a handful of high-profile transfer flops.

Sir Alex Ferguson believes freely that signing Owen Hargreaves in the summer of 2007 was the most disappointing choice of his illustrious Manchester United career.

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The England midfielder arrived fresh off an outstanding World Cup campaign and a reputation enhanced by his time at Bayern Munich. Yet chronic injury difficulties meant he never completely established himself at Old Trafford, resulting in Ferguson’s non-too-flattering verdict on his transfer.

But, there are similar reservations about a player who was signed the same week as the combative midfielder. Anderson arrived in English football as one of Brazil’s most promising prospects.

Only two years prior, the central midfielder had been named tournament player of the under-17 World Cup. At the age of 18, he was already a member of the senior Brazil squad and was anticipated to play an important role in Selecao’s future ambitions.

United paid £27 million to sign Anderson from FC Porto, beating off Real Madrid and Chelsea. Despite winning four Premier League crowns and a Champions League title, he never lived up to his promise.

When Anderson’s career ended prematurely at the age of 31, it became a significant ‘what if’ not only for Anderson but for Manchester United as a whole. Ferguson didn’t make many mistakes in the transfer market, and many at the club believe he would have gotten it right with Anderson if only his mentality had been right.

“He might have been the best player in the world at one point, I assure you,” ex-United goalie Ben Foster said last year on the UTD Podcast. “Everyone believes he had the potential to be the best in the world at one point.

“But he didn’t seem to care, he didn’t seem to care about anything. He didn’t seem to care about anything [laughs]. But when you put him on a pitch, he’s like that. Carlos Tevez was the same type of player. Oh my gosh, put him on the pitch. Being South American must have some significance.”

That was a judgment that swiftly spread throughout the coaching staff, with Ferguson’s trusty friend Mick Clegg saying that resentment of the gifted South American reached the boss himself.

“Anderson was one of them. “You couldn’t meet a nicer person; he was well-liked by everyone, but he was a lazy bleeder,” Clegg told the Athletic. “He was always making excuses. I used to have a stick, and I told Alex Ferguson early on that if he kept going, I’d strike him with my blood stick.

“Fergie couldn’t believe his eyes. ‘Don’t even think about it. It was really expensive for me. You can’t possibly be hitting one of my players, can you?’

“Fergie then came to find me six weeks later. ‘Where the hell is that bloody stick? Please give me that stick. “I want to punch him.”

Clegg said that Anderson could have been “an amazing stormer of a player” but rather than apply himself properly, he decided to not put himself in the world and became a “party animal.”

He would leave United in 2015, having made nearly 200 appearances for the club. He subsequently played in Brazil for a short time before returning to Europe to play in Turkey. Nevertheless, that trip was short-lived, as he hung up his boots in September 2020, carrying a boatload of regrets with him.

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