Ander Herrera claims he is happy with life under Louis van Gaal but Ian Watson believes the Manchester United midfielder would be well within his rights to question his future.
Ander Herrera denied a report on Tuesday that he was becoming frustrated at Manchester United and seeking talks with Louis van Gaal, but few could blame the Spaniard if there is any truth in his supposed disillusionment.
The versatile midfielder has established himself as a firm fans’ favourite at Old Trafford since arriving in the England last summer. So much so that if supporters had to immediately choose between Herrera and Van Gaal, it’s difficult to imagine that many would be in the manager’s camp.
Given the 26-year-old’s character, he was never likely to do anything but profess happiness, but while flitting in and out of the side, he must have questioned his level of involvement this season.
The worry for Herrera is that that Van Gaal doesn’t appear to have anything like the same faith in him that the fans do. This despite the Spaniard sharing similar traits to those of his countrymen Juan Mata and David Silva: composed, creative and clinical. Everything Van Gaal’s team is not.
In the Dutchman’s functional side, there is apparently no place for Herrera’s qualities, even though the former Atletico Bilbao star could play in any of the five midfield slots.
Interview given last week. Very happy at Manchester United. ? pic.twitter.com/bzVL6dHuDg
— Ander Herrera (@AnderHerrera) December 1, 2015
In his favoured position, Herrera is in direct competition to Wayne Rooney. The United skipper has been abysmal this season and his form shows no sign of improving. As the central striker or No.10, Rooney has accrued double the playing time in the Premier League but has failed to match Herrera’s contribution. Both have netted a couple of Premier League goals but Herrera has also provided a pair of assists – two more than the skipper. Last season was a similar story. Herrera scored six goals from seven shots on target and netted every 2.8 shots in comparison to Rooney’s 4.4 shots per goal. Van Gaal has bemoaned the lack of ruthlessness in his side;s finishing, for the most part while Herrera remains sat on the sidelines.
However, as Van Gaal has also openly spoken about, the England star has captain’s privileges and it seems something catastrophic would have to occur for Herrera to get a consistent run as the attacking playmaker.
In the deeper roles, Herrera has been bumped down the queue by the arrivals of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger. With Michael Carrick plagued by injury of late, Schweinsteiger has established himself as first choice as a severely-restricted midfield orchestrator.
If Rooney is going nowhere and Herrera doesn’t possess whatever Van Gaal is looking for in a No.10, then the Spaniard could certainly operate from deeper on the field. Under almost any other manager, of course.
For now, at least, Van Gaal wants his two base midfielders almost on a leash held by Chris Smalling. Against top-class rivals, that is somewhat understandable, but so often United field two defensively-minded midfielders against far less ambitious opponents.
That is when United need someone to break the opposition lines, which is what Herrera can do.
With either a pass or a dribble, his penetration so often appears to be what United lack. Like Mata, Herrera has more in his armoury to escape tight areas than a backwards pass, but Van Gaal appears dead against the idea of giving either of his two Spaniards a central role.
Like Mata, Herrera’s character also endears him to the United faithful. Herrera either genuinely shares the fans’ love of the club or is very clever with his PR. He talks about wanting to experience an away day with United’s vociferous travelling support and not wanting his United dream to finish. His reaction to the Red Devils’ late winner at Watford suggests the sentiment is genuine.
But such passion will never stir Van Gaal. Rightly or wrongly, the manager prefers automation to emotion and while that remains the case, Herrera’s prospects are unlikely to improve. He might not be the type to bang on the manager’s door but the so-far uncapped midfielder would be well within his rights to knock politely before asking Van Gaal whether he is wasting his time before he turns 27 next summer.