After a little over twelve months, a group of alleged imposters masquerading as a transfer committee (which has now been cleared up) and dealing with one of the most stubborn football clubs in the game, Manchester United have finally signed Ander Herrera.
This is the time for giving credit where it’s due. Herrera to United looked dead in the water after the episode of last summer. The failure to land Herrera led to the player being benched early on by Ernesto Valverde, only to be gradually reinstated as a starting regular and ending the season on a personal high. Such was the mix up last season, if we’re going to call it that, and Athletic Bilbao’s red-faced stubbornness, the player looked all but set to commit his future to the Basque club.
Credit now to United for convincing the player otherwise, keeping the deal relatively quiet and wrapping it up in a manner as professional as can be done in such a situation. Bilbao, under no pressure to sell for a multitude of reasons, won’t settle for anything less than their players’ buyout clause.
The deal is somewhat of a surprise due to United’s apparent disinterest in returning to such a complicated negotiating table. Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arturo Vidal, and various others looked well ahead of Herrera as possibilities to be United’s next midfield lynchpin.
But this is what United needed. The misconception about Herrera is that he’s a young player – at 24 (25 later this summer) and having been a regular for Bilbao since 2011, he’s far from it. Questions about the player’s fee are warranted: is he worth that sort of money at this stage? It depends how you look at it. As of now, Herrera wouldn’t command a fee of £29 million elsewhere. But these were special circumstances, dealing with a club who simply don’t budge when it comes to transfers. In the future – and there can be little doubt that Herrera is well off his peak – the Spaniard will justify the figure United parted with.
The player has been talked up as one of the pivotal figures in the next wave for the Spanish national team. Along with Thiago Alcantara and Koke, any combination of the three could replace Xavi ad Xabi Alonso in Spain’s midfield in the future.
There’s a lot to like about Herrera’s game over both Kroos and last year’s transfer target Cesc Fabregas. He has bite, he’s not afraid to get stuck into the dirty work, namely winning the ball back high up the pitch. He’s intelligent and can create, which is well known, but his versatility is what makes him such an attractive prospect. Juan Mata or Wayne Rooney will fill in at No.10, but Herrera is just as comfortable there as he is deeper in the midfield. He can become the perfect centrepiece to employing stylish possession tactics.
Naturally, the midfield recruitment shouldn’t be over for United just yet. Herrera very much needs a partner or some form of safety net behind him. At Athletic Bilbao, Ander Iturraspe is a regular starter and would sit in front of the back four. United have a long-standing need for a player who can protect the defence, and now with the signing of Herrera, they very much need someone to help bring the best out of the 24-year-old.
Think of the rewards to be had with Herrera pairing up with a coach like Louis van Gaal. The Dutch coach is known for his preference of working with younger players; this Netherlands side at the World Cup very much leans on youth and inexperience. It was van Gaal who brought Thomas Muller into the Bayern team, as well as guiding a youthful AZ Alkmaar to the Dutch title. The bottom line is this: Herrera isn’t the finished product yet. He’s good, very good in fact. But this is a player who can be further moulded by a manager who has his preferred way of coaching.
United have taken a considerable leap forward with this signing. They would have been impressed by the mauling suffered at the hands of Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League in 2012. Herrera racked up a huge number of games over that season, helping Bilbao to both the Europa League and Copa del Rey final.
This is the natural next step in his career. There’s added responsibility now and Herrera is more than capable of delivering.