Sport is full of moments that will be remembered for years to come. Some are positive, such as a championship-winning goal or a record-breaking performance, while others are negative, such as a costly mistake or a heartbreaking defeat. One such moment occurred in the Premier League in April 2023, when Bukayo Saka missed a penalty that could have clinched the title for his team, Arsenal. The miss was reminiscent of Herschelle Gibbs dropping Steve Waugh in a crucial match in 1999, a moment that has become part of cricketing folklore.
In the aftermath of Saka’s miss, fans and pundits alike quickly drew comparisons between the young winger and other players who had faltered on the big stage. One such player was Antony, a left-footed right winger who had recently joined Manchester United. Antony had been unfavourably compared to Saka, who was widely regarded as one of the best players in the Premier League. Still, his performance against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup quarterfinals suggested he might be on the verge of a breakthrough.
Antony’s performance at the City Ground was a possible turning point in his Manchester United career. On a day when Forest celebrated 50 years of their Tricky Tree crest, Antony mastered his one trick. This was a reference to his ability to cut inside from the right flank onto his more muscular left foot, a move that had drawn comparisons to Arjen Robben, one of the greatest wingers of his generation.
Antony’s technical ability had never been doubted, but his consistency had been questioned. In his first six months at Manchester United, he had shown flashes of brilliance but had struggled to maintain a high level of performance over an extended period. However, his recent form had significantly improved, and he had been involved in several critical moments for the team.
Against Forest, Antony scored his first Premier League goal in 15 games and provided his first Premier League assist. Both contributions were evidence of his technical prowess, but the manner of the goals was particularly pleasing for his manager, Erik Ten Hag. Antony’s first goal came after he sprinted past Renan Lodi and prodded in the rebound from Anthony Martial’s shot. His second goal was even better, as he cut through Forest’s defence with a perfectly timed pass that allowed Diogo Dalot to score.
Antony’s performance against Forest drew comparisons with Robben, who was famous for his ability to cut inside from the right wing onto his left foot. Ten Hag endorsed this comparison after the game, saying that Antony’s first yards with the ball as he dribbles were outstanding and difficult to defend. However, he also noted that Antony needed to work on his decision-making in the final third of the pitch. In the first half of the game, Antony had ignored an unmarked Christian Eriksen and opted to shoot instead, a decision that could have cost his team a goal.
The challenge for Antony now is to maintain his high performance against better teams. He has shown he can be a game-changer, but he must be consistent with becoming a top-class winger. In particular, he must avoid the kind of hubris that led him to attempt an ‘Anturny’ against Sevilla when his team was already 2-0 up. Antony is most effective when he can receive the ball on the half-turn in the final third of the pitch rather than attempting to dribble past defenders on the halfway line.
Robben is a worthy benchmark for Antony to aspire to. The Dutchman was one of the most successful wingers of his generation, winning league titles in the Netherlands, England, Spain, and Germany.