This is the fifth instalment in Football FanCast’s Legacies series, which pays tribute to those players and managers who leave a compelling story behind as they move on to pastures new.
Ander Herrera has left Manchester United after five years at the club and joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.
While his time at Old Trafford hasn’t been characterised by major collective success, he’s certainly been one of the shining lights through a rocky transitional period in the club’s history.
His commitment has been an outstanding and often redeeming feature in the midst of abject United displays in recent years,
With his departure fresh in mind, Football FanCast analyse his legacy at the club.
Following a transfer fiasco that set the tone for a farcical transition into the post-Ferguson era under David Moyes, Herrera finally signed from Athletic Bilbao in 2014.
The midfielder was part of an influx of players – including Angel Di Maria, Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo – who arrived in 2014 as part of Louis van Gaal’s major summer overhaul.
Herrera was one of the few fresh recruits who acclimatised well to his new club. While possessing the technical, aesthetically-appealing and stereotypical attributes of a Spanish midfielder, he also possessed a raw tenacity that naturally endeared him to the fanbase.
The Spaniard lifted his first trophy with Man Utd in the 2015 FA Cup, and quickly added further silverware to his name the season after under Jose Mourinho, where he developed into a more defensive-minded midfielder.
The Community Shield, a Carabao Cup – in which he assisted Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s winner – and a Europa League triumph came next in 2017, rounding off a wonderful year by scooping the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award.
Things continued to get better for Herrera under the new management of Mourinho as United finished 2nd to their once nonthreatening and noisy neighbours. The Spaniard’s year included some fine moments, one in particular being his semi-final winner against Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup.
Last season, though, Herrera’s influence dropped significantly and his final campaign saw him bow out in a manner that failed to reflect his boisterous approach to the game.
He did a lap of Old Trafford to thank the fans and spoke on social media of his love for the club before announcing that it was time for him to move on.
Following his departure Herrera appeared to suggest that the Old Trafford hierarchy’s hastiness cost them the opportunity to extent his contract with the club, per Daily Mail.
“I was very happy, I have a lot to thank the club and the fans for it and also Solskjaer.
“He did a lot for me to stay, but things did not happen, they arrived late, and by then I had already made the decision to play in Paris.”
In his five years in Manchester, Herrera has fine-tuned his game and sacrificed aspects of his creative influence in the team to focus on his ball-winning quality, coupling his class and aggression to make a very dynamic midfielder at the base of a three.
A return of six goals and four assists on his maiden Premier League campaign suggested that a forward-thinking midfield talent had arrived, but that was his best return for the club in terms of goal contributions.
He’s managed to register 132 Premier League appearances, averaging just over 26 games a season in the league, proving himself to be a reliable option in the squad.
His goal and assists tally stand at 12 and 17 respectively and, while they aren’t hugely impressive on paper, they’re rather commendable for a holding midfielder.
Herrera’s statistics are incredibly impressive in other areas, though.
The PSG midfielder boasts a tackle success rate of 65%, just 1% shy of N’Golo Kante’s rate – a player widely accepted to be one of, if not the best holding midfielder in the world – and has won a total of 633 duels in the Premier League, making 323 tackles in the process.
Having being deployed in a variety of different positions, Herrera found himself playing an old-school man-for-man defensive midfield role in one of his most memorable showings under Mourinho.
United were pitted against Champions-elect Chelsea, who’s talisman Eden Hazard had been in fine form throughout the campaign.
The United boss used his number 21 to man-mark the Belgian throughout the whole 90 minutes, a tactic that was labelled a ‘masterstroke’ by Phil McNulty, BBC Sport’s chief football writer, as the hosts comfortably recorded a 2-0 win against a side who were on course to surpass a 90 point tally.
It was a startlingly transparent yet immaculately executed plot. It was almost so obvious that it shouldn’t have worked. Yet it did.
The Spaniard had many wonderful moments at Old Trafford but, when you consider Hazard’s ethereal quality and Real Madrid’s desire to exchange a fee for his services that could yet rise to £130m, it’s difficult to pinpoint an alternative fixture in which the richness of his repertoire was laid bare to that degree.
Herrera will be remembered as an absolute fan favourite at United.
Over his time he had no qualms in doing the dirty work, in being aggressive and tenacious, in kissing the badge and by the same token spitting on that belonging to City down the road.
Though the talent perhaps doesn’t match the level of other stars, it’s the commitment and passion that stood him apart from the rest, attributes that fans wish players would embrace more often.
This is his greatest legacy. Herrera’s ability may be replaceable, but his character is not.
Of course he had the talent to go with the determination, but while other United players have been seriously questioned at the end of another mystifying and dismal campaign, Herrera has remained immune to such inquests.
Losing an Old Trafford cult hero this summer is as much a metaphorical blow as it is a physical one.