yWho is Anthony? the villain? socialist? Football wizard or crying baby? In the Netherlands, people still don’t know two years after watching the Brazilian match for Ajax. But after turning it into Manchester United For €100m (£85.6m) last week, the one thing they all agree on is that the nine-figure transfer fee is ridiculous.
Yes, he is a professional football technician, the likes of which we have rarely seen before. But you don’t want to play two games Ajax And the explosive encounter to force the transfer caused a lot of bad blood here.
However, his generous big heart is hard to ignore. Take, for example, his celebration of his goal. Among the Brazilian footballers who grew up in the favelas, it is common to honor their old friends. With a certain gesture they say: “I have not forgotten you, I know where you came from.” But when Anthony makes the letter “L” with his fingers after a goal, it’s not meant for his friends in Osasco, a suburb of São Paulo also called Hell, or “little hell”. It’s not even for his son Lorenzo.
No, the “L” began as a tribute to Larissa, a seven-year-old Brazilian girl recovering from cancer he met in 2019 when Anthony Matthews dos Santos started making an impact at São Paulo FC. The winger shaved his head after winning the São Paulo Cup with his club in support of the girl whose eyesight was deteriorating and he visited regularly. They are still in touch. Anthony told the Dutch newspaper: “Larissa will always be in my heart, she is a great inspiration to me” trout.
Such concern about the plight of others stands in stark contrast to his attitude toward Ajax during his final weeks at the club which brought him to Europe two years ago for €15.75m and sold him to United for a Dutch record fee.
When he arrived in Amsterdam, Ajax made him feel at home. There was a special song, Bim Vindo Anthony (Welcome Anthony), sung by new Brazilian bandmates David Neres and Danilo and singer Sarita Lorena. He said in February that Anthony felt comfortable and safe in the Netherlands. “I can usually do my shopping here on the street and in peace. The people are cheerful and his fans are nice.”
But he has already indicated to Fabrizio Romano his desire to leave. He had bigger dreams. For most Brazilians, playing in the Eredivisie is a first step towards moving to other European clubs with better pay.
And the thing is, Anthony will never forget where he came from. “Everyone who comes from the slums knows what happened there,” says one of the many tattoos. In Little Hell, his entire family slept in one room, there wasn’t always money for food, let alone soccer shoes, and they never felt safe from the violence of drug smugglers. Keeping him and his family away from this place was his biggest motivation.
Anthony’s star has skyrocketed since his arrival in Amsterdam. After a good first season, he took Olympic gold with Brazil in Tokyo in the summer of 2021 and became an established member of the national team. Last season, Ajax made a huge impression in the Champions League, winning all group matches with Anthony superbly.
Even more than his first season, he linked efficiency to entertainment. His signature move was to control a cross pass behind his leg as he floated through the air like a ballerina. Anthony accelerates so fast that he can overtake opponents from the start of the stand. He can break in from the wing and shoot into the far corner with his left foot. He also found Sebastian Haller flawlessly (especially against Sporting) with passes using either on or off the foot.
Erik ten Hag, now his manager at United, played a big role in his development during his tenure at Ajax, with Anthony demanding top-tier performances in every game, not just the big ones. He defended him after Anthony’s theatrical works after his injury against Feyenoord. “I wish more players would have his temperament, his desire to win,” Tin Hag said afterwards. When Ajax won the title, they were dancing together.
Ten Hag praises Anthony for his constant menace, his quick adaptation to European football, his speed and ambition, and his bold mentality. Ten Hag is a team builder but knows he needs players with the ability to award tight defences. Without the injured Anthony, Ajax’s performance declined in the final months of last season. Ten Hag set it up, in large part, for Anthony’s absence. Ajax’s attack has become highly predictable without him.
But he also has his critics in the Netherlands. Marco van Basten, no less, said: “He plays in a very childish way.” Anthony also often loses possession, that there are misunderstandings with his teammates and he had only 24 goals and 22 assists in his 82 appearances for Ajax. Van Basten said: “I don’t like being shot either. In international football it’s all about stats, goals and assists, I’m not a fan of that.”
Speaking on the same TV show, RondoRuud Gullit, Van Basten’s former team-mate, wondered if Anthony was ready for the Premier League. “It’s very difficult,” said the former Chelsea and Newcastle coach. “You just have to have more experience, and do a lot more. It’s a lot faster physically.”
However, most Ajax fans are saddened by Anthony’s departure, and some are even demanding a discount on their season ticket. In club culture, entertainment is almost as important as winning. Anthony refreshed in this air.
But the feeling is amazement at the staggering amount that has been paid to the 22-year-old. It has been suggested on social media that the club’s director of football and former United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, just like when Donny van de Beek moved to Old Trafford, would place an ad again in Manchester evening News. This time it wouldn’t be a good idea to keep a close eye on their former disciple. Instead, it will be a picture of him and other members of the Ajax board of directors laughing at their socks while smoking cigars and drinking from bottles of champagne in a bathroom full of banknotes.