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How Anderson went from Ferguson's €30m Golden Boy to early retirement

18:00 GMT+4 27/09/2019
Anderson Manchester United
The Brazilian has hung up the boots at the age of just 31 after a career that never managed to live up to its enormous early promise

In November 2005, on a humid night in Recife, a 17-year-old by the name of Anderson etched his name into Gremio folklore by scoring the decisive goal in a match against Nautico now known as the 'Batalha dos Aflitos' ('Battle of the Afflicted'). 

Gremio had already been reduced to just seven men in a bitterly contested Serie B play-off when they conceded a penalty deep into injury time with the scores still level.

Anderson's team had all but given up but Ademar's tame penalty was saved and the ball found its way to the feet of Gremio's long-haired teenager, who quickly turned tears into triumph.

After starting an attack straight after the penalty, Anderson drew a foul down the left flank. The subsequent free-kick was taken quickly, allowing Anderson to cut in ahead of two defenders and slot the ball home in the 16th minute of added time.

An already chaotic encounter descended into pure madness as Gremio clinched a place in Serie A in the most remarkable of circumstances.

"It was the best match of my life," Anderson told The Guardian in 2008. "My team-mates truly had faith in me and told me I was going to score the goal which would make us win."

It was an incredible moment for a player whose career was set to take off but never quite reached the heights it could have. 

Only months prior to the promotion play-off, Anderson had won the Golden Ball at the U17 World Cup for Brazil, with his nation ultimately losing the final to Mexico after their star player had been stretchered off just 15 minutes into the match.

After putting that heartbreak behind him and becoming a hero for Gremio, the midfielder secured a €7 million (£6.2m/$7.6m) move to Porto in January 2006.

Trading South America for Europe was hardly an easy transition for one so young but Anderson was already more mature than most kids his age.

He had lost his father in 2001 and seen many old friends fall victim to drug use. He already knew how rough life could be.

"I became used to being a man very young," he explained. "When I was 15, I was already thinking as if I was 22, 23 or 24 and making very tough decisions about my future.

"I had to help the family and that I still do today and hope to be able to until I am 60.

"Football helped me out in my life. I can tell you that from my first group of friends, only two or three are still alive.

"All the others passed away, mostly from drug addiction or being involved in drug dealing. I took the path of joy and happiness."

Despite breaking his leg during his time with Porto, Anderson excelled to such an extent when fully fit that Manchester United paid €30m (£26/$32m) for his services in May 2007.

Rated highly by Sir Alex Ferguson, the Brazilian quickly staked his claim for a starting spot and was brought on in the 2008 Champions League final, even converting a penalty in a dramatic shootout win over Chelsea

By the end of 2008, Anderson was regarded as one of the most promising youngsters in world football, as underlined by his winning of the Golden Boy award, which in the three years prior had been handed out to Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Aguero. 

The hype around Anderson was now getting to a point where even Ferguson, a man not afraid to burst the bubble of expectation, could barely conceal his excitement.

"Anderson has been absolutely superb. The boy has definitely got something special," the Scot enthused.

However, as the years went by, Anderson struggled for consistency. 

Across his 105 Premier League appearances, he scored just five goals and contributed eight assists – a poor return for a player generally deployed as a central midfielder. 

Despite his questionable output, Anderson remained a favourite of Ferguson's. The feeling was mutual too. 

"He's the god of football," Anderson said of his former boss in an interview with ESPN in 2018.

"I played through injuries for him, stayed on the pitch when my legs were cut. He looked after players so well. I felt that he cared for me.

"I can't thank that man enough for what he did for me. He trusted me in big games when I was 18."

Ferguson's departure effectively meant the end of Anderson's Old Trafford career, with David Moyes loaning him out to Fiorentina in 2014 before Louis van Gaal let him go to Internacional for free a year later. 

Returning to Brazil nearly a decade after his Gremio heroics, the midfielder would fail to live up to his previous billing as he made a terrible first impression on his new fans.

After missing a penalty on debut, his second match lasted just 36 minutes as he required an oxygen mask after struggling to play at high altitude in Bolivia

Things would get no better as he was sent off twice in quick succession before being replaced at half-time in a 5-0 defeat to his former side Gremio. 

Despite eventually finding some form in his homeland, Anderson opted to move to Turkish second-division side Adana Demirspor in 2018.

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However, after making just 14 appearances in his first season, he decided against playing another campaign, with Adana's club president confirming Anderson had swapped the pitch for an off-field role

By hanging up his boots at the age of just 31 and to very little fanfare, a career that started with an almighty bang has now ended with barely a whimper. 

But for Gremio fans, he'll always be the man that handed them the sweetest of victories as a teenager with the world at his feet.