Ander Herrera first came to my attention during the Europa League tie against Athletic Bilbao in 2012.
He dominated the midfield during both ties, and emphasised Marcelo Bielsa’s philosophy at the San Mamés with his industrious performance.
A mate and myself were left praising him and his team whilst drinking Kalimotxos (Pints of Red wine and Coke) with locals after the 2-1 second leg defeat on that night in Bilbao.
United officials also took note, and finally completed the deal two years on from the humbling defeat in the Basque Country.
Given his mesmerising recent performances for Manchester United, the mind-boggling question is – How did Ander Herrera become United’s “odd man out” in the first place?
Nearly seven months ago on a sunny afternoon in the M16 0RA area against QPR, United fans sensed the much-needed complete midfielder had finally been delivered.
Ander Herrera of the Basque Country produced a swashbuckling performance in which he produced a goal and gave glimpse to midfield capabilities not seen since the heyday of the legendary, and particularly hard-to-replace, Paul Scholes.
Ander went on to start cementing his first-team place, and despite the patchy form United kept producing, his new venture seemed rosy.
This was until a fractured rib against West Ham brought a stop to his progress at the end of September. He was not seen for a month afterwards, until he made his comeback during the Monday night match against West Bromwich Albion.
According to reports, he picked up another knock on the ribs during the first half, and was hauled off at half time. His replacement, Marouane Fellaini, made an instant impact with a goal-scoring second-half performance and the rest was history.
Fellaini, ridiculed throughout his Manchester United career thus far, had now become indispensable in Louis Van Gaal’s eyes.
Herrera was reintroduced to the line-up nine days on against Hull City and produced an assist on his return. This would prove to be a false dawn, though.
He was pulled out of the starting line-up after the unconvincing 2-1 victory away at Southampton, in which he was substituted after 51mins, and was only seen from the beginning against lowly Yeovil Town over the course of the next two months.
To make matters worse for Herrera, The Iron Tulip reached an opinion that he was too much of a risk taker for a team looking for results, rather than performances.
What must be remembered is Ander Herrera was the main standout performer for Manchester United on that cold evening in Yeovil. He produced a 20yard effort rewarding of the man seen as Paul Scholes’ replacement, which lifted United past the League One strugglers.
However, Louis Van Gaal had other ideas. He proceeded to drop Wayne Rooney into a midfield three – sometimes as the holding-midfielder – and kept Herrera watching on from the bench.
His absence came around the same time his name was dragged into a match-fixing case going back to his time with Real Zaragoza. This might have been Van Gaal’s way of taking him out of the limelight. Who knows?
Herrera’s reprieve came due to an unfortunate injury picked up by Daley Blind during the first-half against Burnley under the Old Trafford lights on February 11th. On came Herrera, and he hasn’t looked back since.
You’d expect a player to be out-of-touch given the lack of competitive playing time he’d seen over the previous two months. However, it became immediately clear that Herrera is a natural footballer. His “off the cuff” instincts and effort outweigh any lack of match sharpness that his absence might have caused.
He built on his encouraging cameo performance against Burnley by scoring in the next two matches away at Preston and Swansea, respectively.
Ander Herrera has been a mainstay in United’s midfield ever-since. Deservedly so, may I add.
United’s renaissance could be put down to recent stability and Van Gaal’s firm choice on formation more than anything else. However, Ander Herrera’s reintroduction coinciding with the run of form should not be ignored.
In my eyes, he’s the fine definition of a complete-midfielder. He brings box-to-box elements to a midfield that has looked static – to say the least – over the last few years.
In addition, his eye for that final ball certainly cannot be faulted. Look no further than the pass he produced for Juan Mata’s opener away at Anfield. The link-up play and “brotherly-love” United’s midfield Spaniards put on show that afternoon is something the Red Army should get giddy about.
Manchester United fans would have been forgiven if they thought the International Break had come along at the wrong time, given the form on show.
They were to be proven wrong though, as Herrera and co. produced another solid performance against Aston Villa this past weekend.
It might have been Rooney’s stunning finish that stole the headlines, but it was Herrera’s brace which emphasised his importance to this current United side.
In this form, he is truly un-droppable. The Basque gem of Manchester is certainly here to stay.
Info used above sourced from whoscored.com and physioroom.com. Picture sourced from guardian.co.uk.