It was 8th March 2012 and the scene was Old Trafford. United faced Athletic Bilbao under the lights. An easy win was expected. Come kickoff a spirited display from the Spanish team helped them nick a 3-2 win. Teenage Iker Muniain was spinning United’s defence into a tizzy. But it was a relatively unknown midfielder who ran the show – Ander Herrera and thus began his love affair with the Old Trafford faithful.
Skip to deadline day August 2013, United’s bid for Herrera collapsed after imposters tried to negotiate a deal with the Spanish team. Fellaini arrived instead. Ander Herrera eventually signed the next summer.
Despite his £30 Million price-tag he was never a regular under Dutch boss Louis van Gaal and was out left out to dry on the bench. His cameo arrivals were greeted with raucous cheers from the terraces and it was clear that he was a fan-favorite even despite his limited game-time. His ‘lack of tactical awareness and defensive positioning’ was the alleged reason. Only once till February did he complete the full 90 minutes (in the 5-3 reverse at Leicester, he scored). He made a rare start in the 3-1 win at Preston in the Cup and made it count. Having finally found his way into the side, he made vital contributions as United pushed for a top-4 finish. The next season was more of the same as van Gaal seemed reluctant to select Herrera. But he always deliver when asked to. His fan-like celebrations and love for the badge meant he was adored by the faithful and bided his time.
His future under Jose Mourinho was not secure but his injection of pace, energy and enthusiasm as a half-time substitute in the derby at Old Trafford convinced Mourinho that his future was on the pitch. Herrera’s role in a deeper role and his energy and vigor meant that Pogba was free to express himself. No other midfield player has made more interceptions in the opponent’s half this season than Herrera. Ander is not the flashy player with all those tricks and flicks but his vision, passing ability, football IQ and positional play more than make up for that. He is making the United midfield tick and has kept United moving in the right direction as they chase Champions League qualification.
His sending off in the home match at Burnley was a turning point. A goal for United felt inevitable but his absence meant that United lost that incisive passing in the middle. Herrera is a nightmare for opponents with his interceptions and pressure on the ball. He is not one to shy away from a tackle. His ability to recover balls and recycle plays during attacks is helpful in keeping the pressure up in search of a goal.
His 3 interception per game is better than N’Golo Kante and Jordan Henderson’s. He also has more clearances and blocks than the two. His passing percentage is also more than most players and not many can match is 102 passes per game.
Under Mourinho, Ander has a manager who trusts him. His love for the club and passion for the game would make him an ideal captain at United. But the reason that Herrera can realize his potential is because of his humbleness off the pitch and the ability to put team first. He will be sorely missed in France after he picked up his second booking in the first-leg.