Man United, Moscow, 'killing' Arsenal and more -- Anderson talks to ESPN
Having joined Manchester United as a 19-year-old, Anderson became a cult hero with fans. A decade after the Brazilian midfielder arrived at Old Trafford, he spoke to Andy Mitten about his career, touching on Champions League glory, his love for Sir Alex Ferguson, why Wayne Rooney deserves "more love," Louis van Gaal's "robotic" managerial style and his belief that his former club will get back to the top with the likes of Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku.
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil -- For the past hour, Anderson has been talking at a house he's renting over the New Year. His close friends are outside making a churrasco, a Brazilian BBQ that the men of Rio Grande do Sul -- Brazil's southernmost state -- take great pride in cooking.
This interview has taken weeks to set up but, eventually, I spend 24 hours with the 29-year-old, former Brazil international. He currently plays for Internacional, but is known best for the eight years he spent at Manchester United.
A man who loves life, Anderson turns Drake's Passionfruit up so loud on the stereo that you can feel the bass; he plays on his Playstation; he greets everyone in the street like a best friend. People warm to him; they like the kid who grew up in extreme poverty but went on to score a penalty that helped win a Champions League final.
It still puzzles some former United players why Sir Alex Ferguson loved Anderson so much. Like Eric Cantona, a different set of disciplinary rules applied. Moreover, those teammates weren't envious. They couldn't get enough of his smiles and quirky use of the English language; Anderson still pronounces beach as "beachy," house as "housey" and refers to Michael Carrick as 'Carricky'.
He's generous, funny, cheeky, the life and soul, except now tears are coming out of his eyes. He's talking about May 21, 2008 in Moscow -- the European Cup final between United and Chelsea -- and the moment when, with the score level at 1-1, he was told to come on as a substitute in the last minute of extra-time, because Ryan Giggs told Ferguson that "Ando is very good at penalties."
"I came on the pitch and didn't touch the ball before the game ended," says Anderson. "It was straight to penalties and I was the sixth one. [Cristiano] Ronaldo missed. The best guy missed! We all thought 's---!' [Carlos] Tevez, Carrick, [Owen] Hargreaves -- great player -- Nani. All scored. John Terry missed. If he'd scored Chelsea would have won. I was not thinking about him. It was me next. It was the longest walk towards that ball.
"I started to think about my life. I had been born very poor. My life had been so hard. As I walked up, I thanked God for giving me everything. God told me that this penalty was like a sweet; a cake. It was my moment to be enjoyed. When God said this my nerves went away. I had pictures of my life in my mind. Very poor. No money. Fights with my mum. Sometimes nothing to eat. My father dying. Leaving home when I was 12. Gremio. Porto. I walked to the ball and crashed it. [Petr] Cech is a big man with big hands. He touched the ball, but it went in.
"When [Nicolas] Anelka missed, I thought we had one more penalty," continues Anderson. "Then everyone started to run -- we'd won -- so I followed them. I have the picture. I jumped. [Nemanja] Vidic jumped at the same time. His teeth went in my head by accident. Aaah, that hurt! But the celebration was amazing. The fans behind the goal. Crazy. And then the music from a Brazilian in the stadium. Gal Costa. I danced. Such a famous song in Brazil.
"I saw Manuela, who was like my mother, and my girlfriend. They were crying. I drank until seven in the morning celebrating. I drank on the plane to Manchester and then went straight to Brazil. When I arrived I joked that I wanted to go straight to hospital and to take blood because I'd drunk so much. My Champions League medal is safe. And my four Premier League medals. And I have 400 shirts that I swapped: [Thierry] Henry, [Andres] Iniesta, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo. Many more."
Now Anderson is reflective. He knows what people say about him, how the end of his United career should have been better. He knows his immediate future is unlikely to be at Internacional, where he still has two years left of a lucrative contract. He is the club's top earner and they want him off the wage bill. But he's positive.
"I feel like I've had a very good career," he explains. "I had success at Gremio, at Porto and in Manchester. It's not easy to stay as long in Manchester as I did when you're a Brazilian. I came back to Brazil after being away for so long. I wanted to be close to my family, friends and kids."
Spent 24 hours in Brazil with Anderson. Here's two minutes. pic.twitter.com/OiY32XnZGA— Andy Mitten (@AndyMitten) December 29, 2017
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Ferguson loved you. Why?
I love him too. He's the god of football. I played through injuries for him, stayed on the pitch when my legs were cut. I didn't care. When I was injured, I wanted to come back as soon as possible, but he'd try and stop me. He looked after players so well. I felt that he cared for me. He helped me settle, he gave me new contracts. I can't thank that man enough for what he did for me. He trusted me in big games when I was 18.
When I arrived in Manchester he didn't always pick me at the start. I didn't like that because I'd played every game in Porto. I started to be crazy and I told my agent I wanted to leave, but everything changed after I came on for [Paul] Scholes in a game against Wigan. I played unbelievable in a position that wasn't my own. I preferred to play more advanced so that I could take players on or give a nice pass. Or behind the striker. Fergie put me in the Carrick position that day. I didn't let him down.
I started to play every game. Fergie would always pick me against Arsenal because I always did well against them. Park Ji-Sung always played against Arsenal too. Ji always killed Arsenal. Ronny always did. Three passes and we were away and attacking. Goal.
Our mentality against Arsenal was "let's kill Arsenal." We beat them 8-2 at home [in 2011]. I don't think I saw one of our players make a mistake that day. After we'd scored six, I started to take the p--- with the ball. The manager had to take me off!
You settled pretty quickly in Manchester after arriving in 2007...
Cristiano was great helping me settle. I lived with him for seven months in his house. He was so generous I didn't need to spend any money. He'd drive me to training. I was living with the best player in the world that year. What a life! Then I bought a house myself.
Others were kind to me. Rio Ferdinand, John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Fletch. I was like a kid when I arrived. I liked to joke, I joked with everyone. I spoke very funny English in my early time in Manchester and people asked me to speak to them to enjoy it. I could only speak Portuguese with Cristiano and [assistant manager Carlos] Queiroz when I arrived.
I tried some English lessons but didn't go so much and came up with excuses. So I learned myself. I was not shy at making mistakes with my English. I'd say things like "my car no fly" and the lads would laugh, but they knew I was trying to speak it. And it wasn't like they could speak other languages!
Your life had changed vastly.
I grew up in Ruben Berta, Porto Alegre. It was full of great football players. It's not a favela -- the houses are permanent -- but there was no water when my mother arrived. It was dangerous when I grew up. I had one sister and two brothers. Some of my friends have died already. Drugs, usually.
My dad died too when I was 11. When you die, you die. You don't come back. Your time has gone. I came home one day and my cousin said: "Your father's dead." I said "OK" and went to play football straightaway. My father was 41. He had a heart attack. He drank so much and sometimes I had to help him get home. He'd sit at home relaxing with his Cachaca (a distilled spirit) like it was water. It was very sad.
He was lovely, a quiet guy. I wanted my father to see me play professionally, to see how I did in my life. He never had money, he just worked. He made trollies for supermarkets. I have no photos of him, just a memory of being on a scooter with him.
I had two choices when my dad died: Relax and be no one, or be strong and be someone. I wanted to earn money, but life was difficult at home. I only ever went to my house to sleep because I was usually out playing football but, one day, I wanted to watch a game. Every Tuesday there was a game on at 9.45 p.m.
My family would watch TV all the time. I never watched it. I asked to watch the game. They said no. We argued. Something happened. There was blood in my mouth. I told my mum that I was going to leave the house. She didn't think I would.
I looked around to see my family watching TV. I said "one day you are going to need me. One day you are going to see me on television" to my mum, my brother and my sister. My tears mixed with my blood. They laughed at me. I put my clothes into a bag and left home. I never came back to the house and lived with a friend.
You started your career at Gremio...
I took the bus to training but didn't have money for the fare. Or if I did, it meant I did not have money for eating. I'd say to the driver: "Can I go on for free?" and he'd let me. I was leaving at nine in the morning and coming home at eight at night. Finally, Gremio helped me move house; I told them they had to or I would have to leave the club.
I started to live in the stadium. I needed authorisation from my mother, which she gave me. Six months after I'd left home, I was on television. It was a youth tournament and I was the best player. Everyone in Ruben Berta saw me on television, my first interview. Ronaldinho was at Gremio when I was a child. Later, when I trained with him for the Brazil national team, he said: "You're from Gremio, like me; you're a good player." I played with him in the 2008 Olympics. We lost to Argentina in the semifinal. A bad day.
They had [Lionel] Messi, [Sergio] Aguero, [Javier] Mascherano, [Angel] Di Maria, [Juan Roman] Riquelme and more. We had me, [Alexandre] Pato, Jo, Robinho, Thiago Silva and Ronaldinho as captain. We finished third and got the bronze medal.
Those Argentina players stayed at big clubs longer than most of the Brazilian ones. Why?
Brazil makes unbelievable players, but maybe fewer now because kids have iPad and don't play football as much. I learned skills and mentality as a child playing football. I was a professional at 15-years-old; I bought my first apartment when I was 15.
You were Gremio's youngest-ever player.
I scored in my first game, the derby against Inter. Gremio had no money. They were relegated, so I played in the second division. We reached the playoffs to be promoted again and [in November 2005] had a final game at Nautico in Recife, in the north of Brazil.
The night before, fans were throwing fireworks outside our hotel so we couldn't sleep. Bang! Bang! Bang! The stadium was full, 30,000 people. They painted our dressing room on the day of the game and closed the windows so we breathed in fumes. They wouldn't let us warm up properly, they closed the doors.
Nautico missed a penalty in the first half and it was 0-0 near the end when they got another penalty. Gremio's players went crazy. Four were sent off and we were left with seven players: Six plus the goalkeeper. If we lost one more, the game would have been called off. I had come off the bench with Lucas Leiva, [who went on to play] for Liverpool.
They didn't score the penalty. The ball came straight out to me and I ran towards the Nautico goal. Their players were chasing me but I beat them. Their captain Batata kicked me and got a red card. I told my teammates to give me the ball fast. I started running. I still had the ball. I ran to the goalkeeper. Bang! Into the net. Crazy!
My six teammates were on top of me. The manager was telling us to calm down because we still only had seven players. We kept the score 1-0 and were promoted. We went back to Porto Alegre and half of the city was partying for days. I was 16; I was not supposed to drink. I don't think anything can happen like this again. They even made a book and a film about "The Battle of the Aflitos" (the name of Nautico's stadium).
That was your last Gremio game. The Portuguese agency Gestifute, headed by Jorge Mendes, bought the majority of your economic rights for €6 million and, in January 2006, you joined Porto.
I could have left Gremio for free, but I made sure they got some money for me and the president thanked me.
I moved to Portugal when I was 17. I was too young to move legally by myself; it needed to go to a tribunal. I couldn't get it and needed my mum's approval. My mum got some money and moved to Portugal, in a separate apartment.
The agency provided a lady called Manuela to help me. She helped Cristiano, too, and David De Gea. She was like a mother. She looked after me in every way. I'd not been close with my mum, but Manuela said that my mum still loved me and my mentality began to change. Now, we're much, much better. When I was 15 or 16, I couldn't sit at the same table as her.
I didn't play all the time at first in Porto, but did in my second season until I broke my leg against Benfica in October 2006. A guy gave me a bad tackle; I heard the bone snap. I was playing so well that, if I'd stayed fit, we could have reached the final of the Champions League.
Really. They'd already won it two years earlier. Listen to the team: Pepe, Bruno Alves, Ricardo Costa, Jose Bosingwa, Paulo Assuncao, Lucho Gonzalez, Raul Meireles, Ricardo Quaresma. They lost 3-2 against Chelsea in the last 16; [Michael] Ballack scored right near the end.
When you came back from injury, did you know other teams were watching you?
Jorge told me that Barcelona and Manchester were, plus a team in Italy. I'd played against Manchester during preseason in Amsterdam and done really well.
You signed for United without any prior speculation. Was it a surprise?
It happened quickly. I sat at home one day and Jorge was calling me but my phone was off. It was my day off and I wanted to relax. When I switched my phone on, he was saying: "Anderson, Manchester wants you. Ferguson is here. Carlos Queiroz is here and he wants to see you. David Gill is here. He wants to see you."
I trusted Jorge 100 percent; I felt he cared more about me than money. I got in my car and drove fast. I met them both in Porto. Ferguson went to shake my hand. I gave him a big hug instead! That's how I greeted people.
I couldn't understand anything he said, but Carlos explained that Manchester wanted me immediately. My first reaction was: "Wow!" I liked the idea but was a little bit scared because I didn't speak English. Queiroz told me not to worry, that he spoke Portuguese and Cristiano did too. I said: "OK, it's a good moment for me to leave."
What did you know about Manchester?
I was 19, I knew about them because of a video game. I knew Ronaldo played there, but I didn't realise the size of the club. I knew that [Juan] Veron, Kleberson and [David] Beckham had played there. I was the second Brazilian to play there. What was your first impression of the city?
It was cold! I'd never seen the faces of English people before; they looked strange. My life changed a lot. In Brazil and Portugal, I'd gone to see friends at three in the afternoon. The cities were busy. In Manchester, there was nobody on the streets. Everyone was at home. It was cold and dark in the winter, but I got used to it. I started to love it.
You were an English, European and world champion in 2008.
Everyone had jet lag [for the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan] but I was just joking around. The manager told me that I was going to play in both games. He explained that we were likely to play a South American team in the final and wanted my experience. The first game was against a Japanese side [Gamba Osaka]. F------ hell! They were running around everywhere, so quick.
Then we played the Ecuadorian team [LDU Quito]. Vidic was sent off, but Wayne Rooney scored. He was amazing. When he was angry, he played amazing. I think people in England need to give a bit more love to Rooney, to protect him more. He's scored the most goals for England and United. He's more respected in Brazil. We know him as crazy English guy, but he's a lovely guy, a sweet guy.
How good was that 2007-08 United team?
That team was so good that nobody wanted to stop training each day. We'd get back to the dressing room and look forward to the next day. I'd get to training early, it was such fun. Every single guy trained at 100 percent, with everyone shouting. We played nine vs. nine every Friday. It was a big game, a big fight. The coaches would pick the team; we went at each other on half a pitch.
There was no space so you couldn't make mistakes. You'd be really p----- off if you were on the losing team and the other players would kill you. But we were friends, all these guys from around the world playing for this amazing team. We had so many laughs on the buses to games.
What went wrong against Barcelona in Rome in the 2009 Champions League final?
We started well and had opportunities to score. They had an opportunity and scored. Barca had an amazing team: Messi, [Samuel] Eto'o, Xavi. I played OK, but that's not good enough against Barcelona. They had three midfielders, we had me and Carrick. They always had a third player, with Messi coming in behind them.
You started to pick up injuries.
I did, but I can't complain too much. I had a great time [at United]. I was very happy. Some people were jealous, but I won everything. My numbers don't lie: Four titles, three Champions League finals, cup wins at Wembley.
I was on the bench for the 2011 Champions League final against Barcelona, but I scored two goals in the semifinal against Schalke. I was always ready to come on and take another penalty, but we respected Barcelona too much that night.
And then City began to rise...
I first thought that when they won the league in the last minute [in 2012]; a horrible day for United. They had good teams, but we'd always had better teams. They wanted [Dimitar] Berbatov, but he came to United. They wanted [Robin] van Persie, but he came to United. Robin was a great guy, he looked like a Brazilian, not a Dutch player. He scored amazing goals.
How did you feel when Ferguson announced he was leaving?
My heart was broken. All our hearts were broken. I knew in that moment that Manchester were going to have some problems. Patrice Evra said to me: "United is not going to be the same anymore." I hugged Ferguson and said thank you. Then I said: "Please boss, stay a little more." "Ando, I have to leave," he said.
David Moyes arrived...
He's a lovely guy but it was difficult for him. It would be difficult for anyone after Fergie.
What went wrong for you personally?
I needed to be playing; I was 25, not 21. I went on loan to Fiorentina [in January 2014]. Beautiful city and club; you can live very well in Florence. We got to the final of the Italian Cup.
Then I came back to United and [Louis] van Gaal arrived (Anderson shakes his head). I respect Van Gaal, but football had changed and he was not successful anymore. He gave silly instructions for everything, even in training. He was like a robot. I decided to leave. I told Van Gaal that I wanted to leave. He said I could go.
I was leaving a club, which wasn't the same. The spirit was going, players were leaving. How did he let a player like Di Maria go so quickly? He's a sick player. Van Persie lost the love, too. Everyone started saying: We'll go." Van Gaal's philosophy was no longer working. It's hard in the Premier League to play robotic: pass, pass, pass.
I still watch Manchester. It makes me mad sometimes, but I believe United will come good. They have some great players like [Romelu] Lukaku, [Paul] Pogba and De Gea is amazing. This is why Mendes is so good; he had faith in De Gea when others lost theirs.
I'm happy for De Gea, a funny guy. I used to ask him to take extra shots and he was happy to stay behind in training with me. He's going to be the best goalkeeper in the world; he probably already is.
What would you do differently if you had your time again at United?
I'd do more for me; I'd be more careful with injuries. But aside from that, I have no regrets. I loved to be at Manchester United, loved it. I can tell my kids that I won four Premier Leagues.
How were Gremio fans when you signed for Inter?
Sad but, when I went back to Gremio, I went in the front door; I didn't hide. I left Gremio having done a lot for them and made them money. I was never booed.
My first year back in Brazil went well and I made a lot of assists; the second year was hard because the team was relegated. But I thank Inter for giving me the opportunity and I thank Coritiba, where I went on loan last season.
What does the future hold?
I have three or four years left playing. After that, I want to be close to my family. I have five children: Three girls and two boys. I am friends with the mothers. I want to be close to my home, to relax.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.