Ander Herrera might have improved immeasurably in his new role for Manchester United this season, but James Marshment explains why the Spaniard is still some way from being a long-term answer for Jose Mourinho.
Ander Herrera has been a man transformed this season.
Signed by David Moyes as an attacking midfielder from Athletic Club in £28.5million deal in the summer of 2014, the player’s first two years at the club were something of an enigma.
At his best, he was compared to Paul Scholes. But his best was rarely witnessed and his attacking prowess was often restricted, predictable, and at times, laboured.
It looked like the arrival of Jose Mourinho in the summer would signal the end for Herrera and a return to La Liga, with Barcelona among those linked, was on the cards.
However, Mourinho had other ideas – and there was something in Herrera that the Portuguese liked; qualities he saw that meant the player was converted into a new holding midfield role, designed in part, to help get the best out of £89.3million man Paul Pogba.
To be fair to Herrera, the Spaniard has thrived in his new role and a first call up to the Spain national squad, with a maiden cap, fittingly, coming against England at Wembley in November. It was a cap that was deserved and one befitting of the confidence he had shown in his new role. Herrera, the holding midfielder, was here to stay…
However, question marks still remain over his role in the United side, with many suggesting he doesn’t have the mobility or vision to be truly world class – or even Manchester United class – to make the role his over the long term. Transfer links to the ‘master’ of the position, Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos, suggest United may also have, long term, other ideas too.
And what Herrera lacks in vision or mobility, you can also add ‘restraint’ to the list after two thoughtless challenges against Chelsea on Monday evening.
His first caution, picked up for a perceived block on Eden Hazard, could perhaps be considered unfortunate. His second, for a challenge on the same player, was the very epitome of playing without brains. Surely, having picked up an early yellow card, Herrera should have showed more restraint, more composure and avoid giving the referee a decision to make.
Herrera red. Caught Hazard, already booked for checking Hazard. Stupid by Herrera. Mkhitaryan off for Fellaini. This is going to get uglier.
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) March 13, 2017
How might the match have panned out had United kept all 11 players on the field…? – With Mourinho immediately sacrificing Henrikh Mkhitaryan and bringing on Marouane Fellaini to retain their midfield shape, it’s a question we’ll never know thanks to Herrera.
They say the best players play at their own tempo and play the game with their brains – two decisive factors which strongly suggest Herrera isn’t a long-term answer in United’s holding midfield role.