This time last season, Ander Herrera was a terrier.
Perhaps Manchester United’s most effective outfield player, the Spaniard is last season’s player of the year. Indeed, he is the first outfield player of the year United have had since Robin van Persie in 2013, the last time the Red Devils won the league.
Last season, he wasn’t just an effective football player, though, he was also a teacher’s pet. He was the on-field propagandist for the Mourinho regime, committing the niggly fouls, embodying the hard-working defensive mindset and executing the game plan. In their FA Cup sixth round defeat to Chelsea last March, the fact that it was Herrera who was sent off was apt: he was the victim of referee Michael Oliver’s wrath when the man in the middle simply got fed up with United’s clear and obvious gameplan, which was to kick Eden Hazard. Herrera was only following orders, your honour.
This season, though, the Spaniard is inexplicably out of the team. And it would make a lot of sense for him to be there.
It’s not just his form from last year. Nor does it seem strange because of the fact that, in a side where Paul Pogba is at loggerheads with the manager over his defensive contributions, you’d expect a player like Herrera to be a failsafe option for the manager. Instead, the main reason he should be in the side is because on paper he appears to provide the perfect balance to the midfield: Matic to hold, Herrera to keep busy scuttling around the middle and Pogba to provide the link to the attack.
And yet despite the obvious need for a Herrera-like player, it’s Scott McTominay who is routinely given the nod, or else the manager elects to play a midfield two. Tying Pogba to Nemanja Matic serves only to stifle the Frenchman’s creativity and infuriate Mourinho because of his lack of defensive discipline. Herrera is the obvious solution.
This is a moot point at the moment, of course, because the Spaniard is currently injured. Picked ahead of Paul Pogba so Mourinho could make a point in the first leg of United’s Champions League last 16 tie, Herrera was subbed off in the first half after suffering an injury.
But it’s striking that he’s not been as good as he was last year, especially given he’s the player United so obviously need. In fact, there have been reports this week – hardly the most concrete evidence, but whispers nonetheless – that Herrera might be on his way out of the club, possibly to Atletico Madrid, which would certainly make sense for a Diego Simeone team. But as he is a similar sort of manager to Mourinho, why doesn’t he just keep Herrera instead?
It could be a case of extra-curricular problems. Outside of football, players have lives and are human beings like everyone else, and so poor form could be set off by that. Indeed, this week it’s been reported that Herrera could be caught up in a match-fixing investigation in Spain from his time at Real Zaragoza. The United midfielder stresses he knew nothing of the alleged infringement, but it’s only natural to be anxious when such a serious allegation is aimed at you, even if you know it to be false.
But whatever the matter, it seems to add up yet again to another Jose Mourinho tantrum. And if even Ander Herrera, the perfect player in the perfect position for the perfect manager, doesn’t match up to the his standards, you have to wonder just how much better Mourinho can make this team.
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