One hundred and nineteen minutes gone. One to go. A Champions League final is delicately poised at 1-1. A substitute is being readied on the touchline. His task is simple. Score a penalty. Twelve months ago, that was the scenario. The replacement in question, Anderson, had barely turned 20. His moment arrived in the shoot-out when Manchester United and Chelsea were locked together at 4-4. It was sudden death. Anderson, and United, survived. His spot-kick was struck with a satisfying thump.
In the process, he revealed the blend of talent and temperament that is the hallmark of Manchester United players. A relish for marque games was apparent when, three months into his United career, he nullified Cesc Fabregas at the Emirates Stadium. A still larger task awaits tomorrow when he will be charged with disrupting Barcelona's seductive passing game. "I'm ready because that is what we do every week," insisted the Brazilian. "We train, we get ourselves ready for the game, we have to be focused and do our best."
Despite the understandable focus on Lionel Messi, Barcelona's domination of possession is a consequence of the distribution of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and they are Anderson's immediate opponents. "Everybody knows Messi is an outstanding player and he can change the game in any minute," he said. "However, Barcelona have a very strong midfield and it is the team as a whole, not just Messi himself."
Likely to form part of a central trio with the more laid back Michael Carrick and the less aggressive Ryan Giggs, Anderson's importance is exacerbated by the suspension of Darren Fletcher, who was similarly destructive in the semi-final defeat of Arsenal.Anderson, 21, added: "I'm very sad because every player wants to play the final. We are going to do our best to win the trophy for him." While Fletcher can blend into the background, the same could not be said of the exuberant Anderson. Immediately identifiable by his dread-locked hair, he contributed to an idiosyncratic sense of style by wearing golfing trousers when interviewed.
Cult status arrived long before a guaranteed place in Sir Alex Ferguson's side. Old Trafford often reverberates to the sound of Black Lace's derided 1984 hit, Agadoo, with the lyrics amended to celebrate Anderson and disparage both Fabregas and Kleberson, his predecessor as United's pre-eminent Brazilian. "I do appreciate the fans sing the song for me," he said. "It's great." After an unexceptional start to the season. Anderson's campaign has been revived in the last three months. A high-energy game is well suited to the more intense occasions and his commitment to the collective is very evident. Indeed, he is far from the stereotypical Brazilian footballer. Despite the image of spectacular long-range shooting, this is a box-to-box midfielder without a goal to his name in his 73 United appearances.
"I scored three," insisted Anderson, who also converted penalties in shoot-outs against Tottenham and Everton this season. "But I'll do anything to help the team. If I can score, even better, but my aim is to help the team succeed." That elusive first goal would, the grinning Anderson said, prompt a celebration that involved running naked around the ground. Thus far, his shoot-out successes thankfully haven't brought such a reaction. While others, Dimitar Berbatov included, aren't sure if they will volunteer if a second successive Champions League final is determined from 12 yards, the irrepressible Anderson can be pencilled in for another penalty. His reputation has been forged in such moments. His nerveless disposition equips him for them.