Felipe Anderson’s career so far has been much like his dribbling style – nobody really knows what he’s going to do next. He is still only 25 years old, which doesn’t feel right when considering how many ups and downs his path has incorporated. At times he has appeared an outstanding prospect, wanted by the world’s most prestigious clubs; at others he has appeared an unreliable squad player whose position at the highest level looked anything but assured.
He started out with Santos, playing alongside Neymar. At that time, he didn’t seem out of place alongside the future Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain superstar. His talent was clear, and after three years in the first team he earned a move to Lazio. Like so many Brazilian prodigies before him, this transfer to Europe was predictable. But his start to life in Italy wasn’t so straightforward.
Anderson, then 20 years of age, struggled to carry the burden of a sizeable transfer fee and equally grand expectations. He failed to assert himself upon the side, making just seven league starts. Unable to adjust quickly to a new culture, he also gained weight – so poor was his command of the language, all he could order when out for a meal was spaghetti carbonara.
Yet, just when it seemed like he wouldn’t make his mark on the peninsula, he was rejuvenated in 2014/15. Taking advantage of an injury to Antonio Candreva, he broke into the Lazio line-up and quickly became the star of the show. His explosive speed, dazzlingly quick feet and eye for the spectacular made him the breakout sensation of the Serie A season. Only two players – Diego Perotti and Franco Vazquez – averaged more dribbles per game than he did.
There was an inevitability about the 2015 summer transfer window as far as Anderson was concerned. Manchester United and Real Madrid, among others, were reportedly queueing up for his signature. Huge sums of money were mentioned in gossip columns across the continent. But Lazio kept hold of their key man, and their key man lost his mojo.
Before long, the Brazilian’s torch was passed on to Keita Balde Diao and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. Not only was he no longer the hottest prospect in Europe; he wasn’t even the hottest prospect at Lazio. He lost his starting spot as the team, under Simone Inzaghi’s tactical guidance, went without wingers. While he returned successfully as an attack-minded wing-back, topping Serie A’s dribbling charts once again, that positional change was only ever going to be temporary.
Despite the drop-off, it was no real surprise when West Ham paid around £36 million to sign Anderson prior to this season. A player who had failed to live up to immense early hype joined a club that has, in recent years, consistently flattered to deceive. However, this combination of team and player is working out rather nicely.
In 11 Premier League outings, Anderson has found the net three times. Two of those goals came in the 4-2 win over Burnley; the other came against Manchester United, one of his former suitors. Playing predominantly as a left winger, he is averaging more tackles and interceptions than he ever did at Lazio, while he has never made more than his current 2.1 key passes per game. Unsurprisingly, he is also the most consistent dribbler of all West Ham’s regular starters.
Perhaps his time in Italy has helped him to settle so quickly to life in London. He has already experienced the pain of adjusting to a busy city in a new country, and he has also been backed by his colleagues. “I had to adapt and my team-mates always told me they had faith in me,” he told the Evening Standard. “That has been really important for my adaptation and to be able to show my game.”
It is possible that Anderson will always carry the inconsistency that has stunted his career up to this point, but that may not be a problem. Right now, he is exactly where many predicted he would be four years ago: shining for a Premier League club.
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