Man Utd fans could hardly be blamed for suffering flashbacks while watching Antony struggle. But he’s adapting to United while they are to Erik ten Hag. Trust the manager…
“He can do better,” said Erik ten Hag this week of Antony. Which is certainly one of the more positive verdicts on the Brazilian’s start to life at Manchester United.
Indeed, at times it has been hard for United supporters to watch Antony and not suffer flashbacks to another South American winger who arrived for massive money. “Talented but a complete fanny,” is how Angel Di Maria was described by one unnamed former team-mate at Old Trafford. And while Antony appears to be rather more driven to succeed at United than the pea-hearted Argentinian, there have been echoes of Di Maria in the new boy’s performances.
As a left-footed player – a very, very left-footed player – coming off the right flank, Antony has so far struggled to carry out many of the basic duties expected of a top-level winger, never mind the 13th most expensive player in history. His output in simple terms: five goals – none in the Premier League for three and a half months – and no assists in 20 games.
Anecdotally, the 22-year-old has struggled to beat a defender, which is hardly surprising if there’s any truth in the criticisms that he’s got little pace and a steadfast unwillingness to use his right foot for anything other than pivoting on. One of the most disturbing aspects of United’s defeat at Arsenal was the sight of Thomas Partey chasing Antony down with ease as the winger wasted a chance to break clear on goal, instead coming back inside on to his left foot and into the retreating midfielder’s path. Defensively, he looks even slower.
If all that were true, United could not get Jadon Sancho healthy and happy quickly enough. Or perhaps plans to loan out Facundo Pellistri might have to be shelved while Antony struggles. But United don’t appear flustered.
Of course, United can’t simply write off the Brazilian, even if they were minded to. Which Erik ten Hag obviously is not. And given his achievements so far in refloating United’s sinking ship, the manager deserves to be trusted with this individual project. Just as Antony warrants a little patience.
Dalot and Wan-Bissaka have their strengths, but I think Antony would really benefit from having an elite right-back behind him – like Mazraoui was at Ajax.
Mazraoui and Antony were the most 🔥🔥🔥 footballing duo I've seen in a good while.
— Elko Born (@Elko_B) January 25, 2023
Few people know the player better than his manager. Antony’s next appearance will be the 100th time Ten Hag has named him in his XI having spent two seasons working under the Dutchman at Ajax. If indeed Antony is little more than a ‘fidget-spinning circus act‘, then Ten Hag would have been the first to know. And he certainly would not have been laser-focused on bringing the Brazilian to Manchester with him from Amsterdam.
United could have switched their sights to other wingers in the summer when it became clear that Ajax were reluctant to sell. “There was not a dire need to sell him, we had money in the bank, but the fee got so high,” Edwin van der Sar has since revealed. “We challenged United to go as far as possible. When you want a player, you probably pay a little bit more.” Eighty-five million quid is evidence enough that Ten Hag really wanted the player.
And the manager remains loyal to his biggest purchase. Ten Hag continues to ink his name on the team-sheet. When Antony has been available, he’s started every game in the Premier League other than the Manchester derby win, when he came on as a half-time substitute.
Antony is hardly the first talent to take his time to acclimatise to Our League and the only way to achieve that is to play his way into it. The price tag means we expect everything now from the winger and huge though it is, the fee offers him no shield from criticism while he adapts. But which other attacking imports from the Eredivisie in recent years have hit the ground running? All the signs so far suggest we might be publishing a very similar piece about Cody Gakpo before the end of the season.
At least Gakpo came into a Liverpool team with an identity honed over several seasons. Antony is adjusting to United as they are to Ten Hag. The Red Devils don’t yet dominate possession in the way the manager would like and how he and Antony are accustomed to at Ajax. They have made great strides, of course, but they remain a work in progress. As is Antony. Ten Hag deserves to be trusted with both.
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