In a first of many, we are going to deep dive into former Ajax players and what they’re up to now. What challenges are they facing? How can they overcome them?
Antony was sold to Manchester United last summer for a record fee of £82 million. The most for an Eredivisie player.
Life for him now has not been plain sailing. Despite some goals in important games, he has constantly been criticised for being a one trick pony. Always relying on his left foot. Always cutting in on the inside the same way. Always curling the ball into the corner of the goal the same way.
A barrage of criticism has dropped upon Antony and I don’t think it’s his fault.
He was a headline signing to mark the new era of Erik ten Hag. The Glazer family have burnt through seven managers in a decade. The club management being unstable is an understatement. Did Man United know what they were getting? Did they really want Antony or was it to quell the protests turning up to Old Trafford every other week?
When Antony was in the under 10s of Sao Paulo’s youth academy, he was on the verge of getting dismissed. He struggled for game time.
But something gave. Someone was looking out for him. Staff members somehow convinced the manager to keep him on.
Nonetheless we now have a former player being scrutinised in the thick spotlight of the Premier League? How can Antony break the shackles?
Immigrants from all over the world would came to Osasco during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It is the fifth most populated district in Sao Paulo. Not too far away from the city centre where Antony grew up in a favela called Inferninho.
The favela nicknamed ‘hell’. He used to run rings around gangsters and stumble across dead bodies at the mere age of eight.
I would elastico the drug dealers. Rainbow the bus drivers. Nutmeg the thieves
When he was ten, his aunt use to take him to the Marumbi in Sao Paolo to watch the first team. If he wasn’t doing that, then he was probably playing on the streets, in his house and practising his love for futsal and street football.
What does he look like at Manchester United?
Don’t let the blonde dye or neck tattoos confuse you. Don’t let the constant expression of lament distract you. Don’t let the 360 spinning turns piss you off. He’s not the rich arrogant jerk the £82m transfer fee could project into your subconscious.
It’s just pride. He loves his football and most of all – he’s a Brazilian. They love to show off their flair.
But what about on the pitch?
He has scored seven goals and one assists from 33 games.
He has scored three goals from 17 Premier League games.
Compared to other right wingers in Premier League 22/23
Courtesy: One Versus One
There’s a saying – the number’s don’t lie? He has been underperforming for a club that has high expectations.
For goals in the Premier League, Anthony is ranked #86.
For shots on target, he is ranked #30. For big chances created, he is ranked #51. For xG, he is ranked #71. If you count the number of teams in the league, based on those stats, he doesn’t even get into the average starting eleven in ANY team.
And see those stats I’ve posted in the paragraph above? They are suppose to be Antony’s top profile stats.
Passing stats vs other right wingers in Premier League 22/23
Courtesy: One Versus One
Antony vs ‘average RW’ vs Bukayo Saka in Premier League 22/23
Courtesy: One Versus One
Similarly, Arsenal are in a position where Ten Hag should aim to be. They are five points ahead at the top of the table. They are playing consistent attacking possession based football. Every player in the team has a clear role and mark of improvement in that project. Their flagship winger, Saka has clearly shown a more drastic output and success this season.
On the eye?
His crosses don’t even go past the first man.
You don’t have to score goals or assists to be lethal. However, the other aspects of Antony’s output isn’t showing that. At Ajax, his crosses into the box never use to be an issue. How often have we seen his crosses meet the domes of Huntelaar, Tadic or Bergwijn to hit the back net?
Why aren’t his crosses doing it in the Prem? Maybe it’s because in the Eredivisie, the intensity is a lot lower so you’re allowed more time and space to hit your target?
When you watch Antony, you can also tell he feels rushed all the time. Every shot, pass, cross or flick feels like a push on the panic button.
More often than not, he struggles to beat players. He use to do it for fun at Ajax. So often, there’s a million dozen youtube compilations of ‘Welcome to Manchester United – Antony Santos’.
He is so slow to make a decision that he mostly finds himself on a two-on-one situation.
Not to mention, cutting in on his left foot and going for a shot or cross too often. You could argue he has been ‘found out’ because players can stop him from going that way and force him to go on the outside. This would cut his biggest strength in-game.
There might be a couple reasons.
In the aftermath of a game in January 2023, Antony revealed to TNT sports:
It was a really, really difficult moment for me. But God has always been by my side and I’m grateful also to my family. I dedicate this goal to them and it’s in moments like these that you know who really loves you.
Now it’s about focusing on what’s next and we have a quarter-final to play. Everything, not only on the pitch, it also involves resting, eating well, everything. It’s about being 100% on and off the pitch, especially on the mental side as it’s what controls the rest.
Personal issues could be affecting his performance. However, it’s questionable to use this as an excuse when Ten Hag sent Sancho to FC Rosmalen in the Netherlands during the winter break to improve his physical and mental wellbeing.
Nonetheless, we don’t know what players go through until we put ourselves in their shoes.
Up next is the right-back situation at Man United. They have currently been pivoting between Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diego Dalot. The former is a defensively sound resolute player who is arguably the best one-one-one tackler in the world. The other is a very balanced modern full-back who has improved his game since the days of Jose Mourinho.
A great system also involves great chemistry between players. We haven’t really seen Antony link up well with his defensive counterpart.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has improved his final third output but not to the point where it has moved the needle. He is missing when Antony needs an overlap or a decoy run.
The other right-back has just been missing period due to injury keeping him out for a large part of the season and not having looked the same post-World cup.
Comparatively, if you look at the left flank, Luke Shaw has had a good season for the Red Devils. Case in point is Marcus Rashford is who currently in red hot form who has been given bombing runs and overlaps.
What do we do now?
When you put the shirt on, fans expect effort and end product on the pitch every time. The standard we are talking about is one where the club is always finishing top four as a minimum and challenging for titles.
All of this won’t happen in Ten Hag’s first season. What has this got to do with Antony?
Antony isn’t just wearing a Manchester United top. It’s not just a piece of athlete fabric. This is the weight and burden of the biggest fanbase in the world and probably the biggest footballing legacy to ever exist.
You can’t afford a season to adjust. The fans and pundits work in tandem. You will have a target on your back. Every game is an exam and every exam is a game.
I doubt there are enough arm-chair critics and button bashers to push Antony off his pedestal. He has a long contract. It is worth a lot of money. It’s still his first season.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learnt from both parties.
Maybe give Antony an overlap? Maybe prevent him getting overrun on the right flank? Maybe give him a bit more time?
Contrastingly, Man United had a striker issue and hired Wout Weghorst from Burnley to cover the gap in the January transfer window on a free.
He was a big liability. He could not score or assist in large parts. However, he did provide link up play for United’s front four and add a high work-rate off the ball. His reward was a run of 14 games without being dropped, including a stint in the Carabao Cup final for which he has a winners medal.
Antony does provide a work-rate off the ball too. But is that enough?
There’s a saying in a Marvel film: “look out for the little guy”.
Who is looking out for Antony?