Catch me if you can. It is a challenge that Felipe Anderson will lay down to any defender at any club in the Premier League, particularly now he has the appropriate footwear.
Growing up in Brazil, Anderson honed his skills on the stone streets of Santa Maria, though he did so without football boots because of a shoestring family budget.
Regardless, the Brazilian found a way. Blessed with natural speed and swagger, he spent hours with a ball at his feet, whether barefoot or in school shoes.
Felipe Anderson grew up in Brazil without football boots due to a shoestring family budget
His mum, Elza, was not happy he joined Santos but he had a feeling he had a dream to chase
Anderson’s homeland is a world away from West Ham, where sports scientists analyse how to extract that extra dash of speed and measure his every move.
Coaches at his previous club Lazio reckoned he was Serie A’s fastest player when running with the ball. His dangerous dribbles even saw supporters christen him ‘FA7’ – a nod to Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘CR7’ moniker.
West Ham’s £40million-record signing is still finding his feet in the Premier League but once the brakes are off, the 25-year-old believes there will be no stopping him. It is only a matter of time.
Anderson is part of a scheme that helps underprivileged London kids participate in football
‘Everyone knows that when you have got that title of club-record signing you’re expected to do something different, to do big things,’ explains Anderson. ‘There is a lot of belief in you.
‘I think it is more about the trust of the club. The club trusts me to perform. It’s not as much pressure. They are trusting me to play my game. One hundred per cent.
‘I always followed the Premier League. It’s a quick game with very strong players. Speed is one of my characteristics.
The West Ham winger (left) envied his friends because he couldn’t afford a sticker album
Anderson has played well against Huddersfield and Burnley in his last two appearances
At 17-years-old Anderson was given the No 10 shirt at Santos – previously worn by Pele
Anderson clocked the fastest speed in West Ham’s most game against Huddersfield
‘This was where I wanted to be. I felt ready to come to West Ham. Now I feel ready to take on these challenges and do something great here.’
As a kid, Anderson would watch with envy as school friends traded football stickers because he could never afford his own album. Now, at home, he has a copy of the Calciatori Panini 2014-15, where he featured on the front cover as a proud Lazio player.
It acts as a reminder of how far he has come, and so do the tattoos that smother his body. Among them, he has ‘gratidao’ written across his ribcage, or ‘gratitude’ to you and me.
Coaches at Anderson’s (left) old club Lazio reckoned he was the fastest player in Serie A
‘Tough,’ says Anderson with a wry smile, looking up at the empty stands inside the London Stadium while we stand on the pristine pitch. ‘Where I grew up, it was a tough area. There weren’t many opportunities or any conditions for us to play football. From a young age, I always had that dream that I wanted to be a professional player.
‘My family knew about this dream and supported it, despite our tough conditions. We didn’t even have money for football boots. But they supported me. At the end of the day, it was destiny.’
Since signing, Anderson has taken on a role with West Ham’s Players’ Project, a scheme aimed at helping underprivileged London kids participate in football.
Anderson won Olympic gold at Rio 2016 and broke into the Santos team with Neymar
It is something he is passionate about, considering a similar programme was behind his first steps into becoming a professional.
Santa Maria’s police force came up with the idea of a ‘soccer school’. It was aimed at keeping local kids on the good side of the law, with organised crime and drug dealing rife.
In 2007, a scout spotted 13-year-old Anderson and he was invited to join the Santos academy 650 miles away. His mum, Elza, was not happy but he left the family home, feeling he had a dream to chase.
David Sullivan signed off on the £40million move in the summer to sign Anderson from Lazio
There – alongside Neymar, who he would later win Olympic gold with at Rio 2016 – he broke into the Santos first team. At age 17, he was handed Pele’s No 10 shirt. No pressure, kid.
‘When you were on the pitch wearing that No 10, everyone was expecting you to do something incredible,’ Anderson says. ‘Pele’s shirt. There was always going to be an importance with that.
‘It was hard for me. I was so young. I was 17-years-old and going professional at that age, playing for such an important team in Brazil, but it really helped me mature a lot.’
West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini was keen on adding the attacker to his ranks this season
In a sink-or-swim situation, he came out on top at Santos, then again at Lazio. He is confident of rising to the challenge at West Ham too, with the winger having been a thorn in the sides of Huddersfield and Burnley in his last two appearances.
Chelsea and Manchester United scouted Anderson in 2016 but when previous Premier League clubs came calling, Lazio held firm, quoting large prices. It was West Ham co-chairman David Sullivan who signed off on the big-money move in the summer.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini was particularly keen in adding the attacker to his ranks and Anderson adds: ‘What I was really looking for was for a project and a team that believed in me 100 per cent.
‘That’s what I found with West Ham. The coach always supported me and still supports me. When I found out it was West Ham who had an interest in me, it was an easy decision.
The Hammers play Manchester City on Sunday which is a chance for Anderson to test himself
‘I had no difficulty in saying yes. I knew about the traditions. That’s why I wanted to come here.
‘Of course Europe is an objective. Recently there have been big changes to the club, with new players and a new coach, so the most important thing right now is to get the wins.
‘We’ve got a solid team. We’re definitely finding our style. There are bigger goals, but we’re taking it game by game and winning all we can.’
Anderson knows he is expected to bring Brazilian flair to east London. With Manchester City up next on Saturday, it represents a chance to test his pace and skills against the Premier League’s very best.
The days when this former street footballer could only dream of owning a pair of adidas Predators are long gone. With three goals in two games, Anderson is now wearing his shooting boots. Beware, City.