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Mikel and Anderson: victims of a distrust

of creativity
Posted by Michael Cox
In Chelsea’s match with Manchester United this Sunday afternoon, arguably the most
fascinating battleground will be the central midfield zone.
That is entirely common in matches between two big clubs, but usually because of the vast
quality on display. This weekend’s match is different, as both teams are weakest in that very
position: the central midfield, the heart of the side.
There are injury problems: Chelsea may be without Frank Lampard while David Moyes will
probably still be unable to call upon Marouane Fellaini.
Beyond that pair, Chelsea have depended upon just four central midfielders and have recently
been using centre-back David Luiz in the holding role, despite Jose Mourinho previously
insisting he would not, and have now re-signed Nemanja Matic -- a player they sold as part of
the Luiz deal in 2011 -- for 21 million pounds.
United, meanwhile, lack a reliable partner for Michael Carrick. They’re forever linked with
talented young midfielders from across Europe -- Arturo Vidal, Ander Herrera and Cesc
Fabregas to name just three -- and have been supposedly considering a bid for Paul Pogba.
Considering they allowed the Frenchman to leave for free two summers ago, it would be akin
to Matic’s return to Chelsea, and would cost them even more.
- Van Persie: Moyes will succeed
- Van Persie and Rooney doubts
- Matic wants silverware
As these two substandard midfields meet at Stamford Bridge, it’s worth thinking about the
players who have fallen out of favour at each club. Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel remains a part
of Mourinho’s squad, but will see his position filled by Matic, while United’s Anderson has
one foot out of the exit door, seemingly on course for Fiorentina. It’s a surprise transfer,
considering the Italian side’s midfield zone is superior to that of United.
Mikel and Anderson were once considered the future of their clubs. Mikel could have been a
part of Manchester United’s future, of course, having signed for the club in 2005 and worn
the club's shirt at a press conference unveiling before a protracted transfer saga that meant he
instead joined Chelsea (and United received 12 million pounds).
Had Mikel joined United, Sir Alex Ferguson probably would not have bought Anderson from
Porto two years later. Where would the highly rated Brazilian have gone instead? Well,
Chelsea have frequently dipped into the Portuguese market – see Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo
Carvalho, Jose Bosingwa, Luiz, Ramires and Matic -- and Anderson’s agent, Jorge Mendes,
also represents Jose Mourinho.

FIFA’s report from the tournament describes Anderson as “the playmaker with a seemingly inexhaustible box of tricks. What happened? Well.” Almost a decade ago.” . skilfully linked up with teammates. Mikel was cast as Chelsea’s replacement for Claude Makelele. languid in style but absolutely majestic in his control of a football game .The duo could easily have ended up at each other’s club having had. scorer of both goals in the final). with negative consequences. strangely. and later for the full Nigerian side. Two months later. both players were forced to adapt their skillset to English football. fast. very effective on counter attacks. remembers the teenage Mikel as “a young. In the years since. Colin Udoh.. in the holding role of a 4-3-3 formation. Mikel and Anderson were among the most promising number 10s in world football. finding the right pass at the right time to unlock a stubborn defence. In 2005. ahead of Mexico’s Giovani dos Santos and Turkey’s Nuri Sahin. Mikel starred at FIFA’s Under-20 World Cup.” The Technical Study Group identified him as “an outstanding individual player. his game was about economy of movement..” Daniel Silva/AFP/Getty ImagesAnderson in action at the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championship. Anderson won the Golden Ball award at the U17 World Cup. Messi has become the world’s greatest attacking player. finishing as a runner-up with Nigeria and being awarded the Silver Ball (he was beaten into first place by Lionel Messi. could take charge of game. a prominent Nigerian football journalist. extremely similar career paths. along with Messi. who managed him at U20 level. strapping lad in the number 10 jersey. Brazil lost the final 3-0 to Mexico but only conceded the goals after losing the tournament’s best player to injury early on. “Mikel has lost the creativity that catapulted him onto the world stage.” complained Samson Siasia. “Chelsea destroyed the player Mikel once was. for various reasons. too. while Mikel and Anderson have stalled.

Anderson is forced to sacrifice too much of what he is naturally good at?” Peculiarly. “Manchester United were playing their expensive new signing Anderson in central midfield. The Premier League’s biggest four clubs all picked up talented. with the exception of 2004-05. Mikel clearly wasn't ever intended to be a Pirlo clone. but there is also a pattern that is too similar to ignore. he has rarely possessed the stamina for such a demanding role. Both have six domestic honours. Chelsea. of course. they have nearly 500 appearances between them with English sides. between them. He was sometimes given an attacking role as the most advanced player in a three-man midfield. because of concerns about his professionalism and fitness. became a more cautious deep-lying passer. All four were signed at a time when their Man United. but could never produce consistently. Neither Mikel nor Anderson have completely flopped.Similarly. became Arsenal’s primary defensive midfielder. when he was adjusting to the demands of being a defensive-minded scrapper. Arsenal’s Denilson. these four clubs finished in the top four almost routinely. Although he showed flashes of brilliance. It would be fantastic to think that managers were responding to the increased emphasis upon technical. both played a part in a European Cup final victory on penalties and. . having been a brilliant number 10 as a youngster. similar to the way Andrea Pirlo was famously reinvented in the “regista” role by Carlo Mazzone at Brescia. This was particularly appropriate in the cases of Mikel and Anderson. had a similar experience: He arrived as an attacking midfielder. Anderson’s malaise is more self-inflicted. Between 2003 and 2009. Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva was “an attacking midfielder with an eye for goal. who captained the Brazilian U17 side in which Anderson played. “Could it be that in this new role. young attacking midfielders and converted them into scrappers. but always with strict defensive responsibilities. Liverpool and Arsenal dominated English football. The truth is probably less favourable. a role that no coach in his native land would have considered for a nanosecond. which English football still looks for over creativity. despite playing a more creative role for Nigeria.” and while Liverpool fans have grown to love the Brazilian. inconsistent playmakers and instead converted them into defensive midfielders because of their physique. possession football by asking these four players to occupy much deeper positions. though: Their managers didn't have faith in the young. he’s always been patient and cautious with his distribution for Chelsea. The question is: why? There are individual factors in all four cases. there was plenty of dissent towards him in the early days. Mikel and Anderson weren't the only ones who encountered this problem. and when Mathieu Flamini departed in 2008. when Liverpool won the European Cup anyway.” wrote Tim Vickery in 2009. Anderson was converted into a box-to-box midfielder and given licence to drive forward from central midfield. Meanwhile.

Zero to Hero: The rise of Nemanja Matic By Dominic Vieira Finding the complete centre midfielder. He may not have possessed the power or voice of Garcia. a player adored by the fans. hardworking Nemanja Matic arrived in Lisbon in the summer of 2011. Garcia was a consistent performer and warrior in the Benfica midfield. Like with most of Benfica’s signings . gave Matic the opportunity to be the first choice on the team sheet. For the next generation of Mikels and Andersons. comparisons to Messi are long gone. The following season. just ask David Moyes how successful his search has gone. it isn't any better at developing talented foreign equivalents. In his first year he was overshadowed by Real Madrid graduate Javi Garica. Cardozo and Saviola . Nemanja Matic was a highly wanted man this winter.’ a fund through which investors can buy a percentage of a Benfica player’s rights. . evidently. English football isn't very good at creating home-grown creative midfielders and. fairly slim. in terms of both quality and world-class players. the sort of player demanded by most manages these days. who joined from Chelsea as part of the David Luiz deal and was originally valued at £4m . a player no one had really heard of and someone who the club did not expect to sell for millions. He also spoke with teammate Paulo Ferreira. and questions arose as to whether he was the right player to replace Garcia.arrived to the Portuguese capital as an outsider. an instrumental presence during their 2009/10 title winning year. it might be best to develop elsewhere. Despite showing glimpses of his ability. a common path taken by developing Chelsea reserve players. on the other hand. Matic was given the stage to establish himself as a pillar in midfield. As several clubs looked to improve their quality in the centre of the park.” A tall. initially there were doubts regarding his quality. a close friend of his who told him: “Benfica is the biggest club in Portugal. Today.Matic. as was expected. Matic proved his quality and demonstrated he was a far more complete player than his predecessor. in particular those sitting at the top of the Premier League. after completing his one year loan spell at Vitesse. is a blistering headache.who at the time all played here . The departure of his mentor to Manchester City on the final day of the 2012 summer transfer window. And in no time. this duo were among the best young playmakers in the world. reserved. who at the time was being chased by many clubs. but his intelligence and superior technical ability certainly made up for this. had already completed his research before agreeing to the move and listed Aimar.However. once upon a time. He. This too was shown by the player being rejected by the club’s ‘Stars Funds.

that first year of adaptation was the ideal bridge for Matic on and off the field. they accepted the player’s wish to rejoin Chelsea. a tower in the air and a confident player who’s never afraid to carry the ball up the field. Ideally. the biggest worry in Lisbon is that there’s currently no replacement for Matic.a name still missed by all Benfiquistas. completing 90 minutes every week. attention from Europe’s heavyweights began intensifying as did the newspaper rumours.5m received from Zenit for the services of the talented Axel Witsel . who joined from Olympiacos in the summer and who’s also Serbian.And just like the Spaniard. something which has become familiar to the top stars in Portugal. can be seen when he moves further up the field. He’s not yet nurtured into the prime player to step into his teammate’s boots. Garcia was an exemplary role model. Matic became irreplaceable. Jorge Jesus moulded Matic into an intelligent box-to-box midfielder. Matic would have departed in the summer. If Matic were to be sold for this fee. surpassing the £32. Matic was Benfica’s revelation. Following his departure. Although last season drew to an unfortunate and bitter end when last minute goals crushed the dreams of both the fans and players. the spotlight is now his and he must perform. He’s equally effective attacking as defending. On the other side. And his lethal shot. The alternative at Jorge Jesus’ disposal is Fejsa. However. knowing when to attack and when to hold the game. and unlike many foreigners who move abroad. labeling him as the “best defensive midfielder in the world. And thus. If anything. Matic transformed into the representation of Benfica’s hard working midfield. always calm and composed. He’s not a Carrick nor a Martinez or a Cabaye. which really should be compulsory at any club. the backbone charged with leading an offensive and hungry team. Jorge Jesus praised Matic’s talent and work ethic. scoring unexpected long range efforts. Benfica did well holding onto their pivotal player by protecting him with a release fee clause priced at £41. His performances rightfully earned him the praises and the Player of the Season award. This too was the case with the likes of other key players.5m. but a player who embraces the qualities of all three. Who’d have thought that this would have happened to Matic? A player who cost Benfica nothing and worked hard to transform himself into one of Europe’s most wanted players. Through his demanding training methods and tactical knowledge. it would’ve been a new club record. allowing Fejsa more time to adapt and the club more time to explore the market. an honour that David Luiz too received in 2010. He reads the game well. .” Although Benfica would’ve preferred to sell Matic for a higher fee by inviting other clubs to bid for his services or wait until the summer. which is his secret weapon. allowing Benfica to be stubborn in the market and refuse any offer below that figure. Matic learned the local language.

He’s hungry to win. learn and perform. Matic praised and thanked his former manager: “I arrived here [to Portugal] very weak.During his final interview for Benfica TV. a mature and complete Matic compared to the 21 year old that joined Chelsea a few years ago. I wouldn’t be going to Chelsea and nor would there have been several other offers for me. I’m now physically much better and I’ve learned a lot under Jorge Jesus. I thank him greatly and if it wasn’t for him. . who fans probably won’t even remember seeing play in a blue shirt. Nemanja has been a sterling soldier at Benfica under Jorge Jesus and the club have been admirable respecting his desire to return to The Bridge.” Mourinho has signed the right player.