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Felipe Anderson: Why Pele, Neymar are fans of top Man Utd, Chelsea transfer target

Europe may have only just caught up with the phenomenon that is Felipe Anderson. But in Brazil, specifically with Santos, they've been expecting great things from the Lazio star for the past five years.

It was in 2010, at the age of 16, when Anderson not only made his senior debut with Santos, but also scored his first senior goal.

The teenager's breakthrough had Brazilian pundits buzzing, including the absolute No1 at Santos, Pele.

"Felipe Anderson is young, has quality and character, along with great scope for improvement," declared the Selecao legend. "He has all the requirements to become a star."

Not enough?

Well, what about within months of being tempted away from Coritiba, Anderson was named captain of Santos' youth team - ahead of Paulo Henrique Ganso and Barcelona star and Brazil skipper Neymar.

"Felipe Anderson on the field is the ideal companion, he knows how and where to pass you the ball. In midfield he can do everything," says Neymar.

The two remain close, indeed it was Neymar who convinced Anderson to leave Santos.

"We always talk," says Lazio's No7.

"We always try to stay in touch so to maintain our friendship. It was Neymar who advised me to come here (to Italy). He told me to be brave and to believe in myself.

"I'll be forever grateful for those words."

Now, as he drives Lazio onto Champions League qualification this season, the rest of Europe is catching up. The Brazilian, still only 21, was watched by Manchester United chief scout Jim Lawlor last week against Hellas Verona. Just yesterday, Anderson's agent responded to rumours of Manchester City's interest and now Chelsea, where transfer adviser Piet de Visser still has his finger on the pulse of Brazilian football, has come forward.

And all this sudden interest despite Anderson penning a new contract extension last week through to 2020.

Stefano Cartegna, Anderson's agent, says negotiations were smooth.

"Lazio always believed in him, even last season, when the player arrived in Europe injured and was not very good. We talked with the club, who made a very important proposal for renewal, his salary jumped to one of the three best in the team.

"Before the contract closed in June 2018, it will now run until June 2020. Its reward to the player for what he is doing."

As Cartegna states, it's only been this season that Anderson has suddenly exploded.

Last term, under former coach Vladimir Petkovic, the Brazilian found himself either out of position or out of the team altogether. But where Petkovic saw a player not ready for prime time, his successor, Stefano Pioli, was convinced of much, much more.

Pioli basically gave Anderson the keys to Lazio's midfield. Everything was planned and built around the Brazilian going into this campaign - and both club and player haven't looked back.

"Coach Pioli helps me a lot, giving me the freedom to move where I want to," says Anderson. "I think this way of playing is truly ideal for me.

"The secret of Lazio? We play, we attack and above all we all run, giving 100%. Pioli says there is no difference between attackers and defenders, you have to give everything in every area of the field in attack and in defence.

"If you can run all day and have a lot of quality, there's little that can stop you.

"I'm very happy, not only for me but for Lazio. The team is going very well. In almost all the matches I've starred. I always hoped to be important and I am now reaping the fruits of my work."

With his dazzling, all-running, all-action style, Anderson appears tailor made for the Premier League.

But it's not only the likes of Louis van Gaal, the United manager, and Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, who are having the midfield ace watched. can reveal that Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti made direct contact with Lazio sports chief Igli Tare this week about Anderson. Pep Guardiola is also a fan and would love to take him to Bayern Munich next season.

But his new deal not withstanding, the midfielder's loyalty is to Lazio, particular president Claudio Lotito, who never lost faith in Anderson's talent last season.

"I love the president," says Anderson. "I'm just so happy for him.

"He has a special affection for me and I know he's been happy with the way I've been playing of late. It's what he always expected from me."

As for coach Pioli, who Anderson owes so much. the evidence is clear, Lazio have a potential worldbeater on their hands. A talent capable of reaching the very peak of the game.

"If he remains humble, he can become unstoppable - just like Cristiano Ronaldo..."

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