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Herrera – Don’t be fooled by the baby face

Don’t be fooled by the baby face – in Ander Herrera Manchester United have signed a leader on the pitch and a mature man off it.

As comfortable as marauding into the opposition’s box as sitting back and organising the play, he is the versatile midfielder the team have been crying out for ever since Owen Hargreaves’ knees gave way.

The son of midfielder Pedro Maria Herrera, Ander was born in Bilbao but moved to Vigo and then Zaragoza. Like many Spaniards, his first forays into football took place indoors on a basketball court, playing futsal, a game high on technique played all around the world, except in Britain. He didn’t play on grass until he was nine, but admits those years spent playing indoors honed his ability.

As a teenager he joined the academy of Real Zaragoza, where his father worked as director of football. Ander’s eventual breakthrough into the first team inevitably provoked accusations of nepotism, but even before he had made his debut for Zaragoza, he had caught the eye of Athletic Bilbao, who were well aware of his elegibility to play for the Basque club. Herrera’s strengths lie in his willingness to hassle the opposition and press as well as his passing range and footballing intelligence.

He has spent a lot of his career rotating between a deep midfield role and playing as an attacking midfielder. He is happy doing both, although he says his favourite position is neither as a ‘6’ or a ‘10’, but an ‘8’. “The same role as Xavi or Iniesta,” he told Four Four Two.

One aspect of his game Herrera shares with Xavi is an insistence on touching the ball as much as possible, as he told Marca: “I like to have a lot of the ball and when I don’t I get impatient.”

His first coach at Zaragoza, Jose Aurelio Gay, saw Herrera more as a deep-lying midfielder, but barking mad Marcelo Bielsa, his first coach with Athletic following a €10 million move, had other ideas.

“He didn’t want me to be a player who played with the ball at my feet,” said Herrera. “He wanted me to have a change of speed and dictate the pace of the game by varying the play. He’d insult me in every training session until I did this. He’d shout ‘You’ve got to get into the fucking box’.”

It was under Bielsa where Herrera says he played the game of his life. RoM readers might remember it. His performance in Athletic’s masterclass at Old Trafford meant Alex Ferguson put Ji Sung Park on him in the return leg to limit his influence on the game.

It worked to a point, but Athletic still won, laying down a marker on their march to the Europa League final.

Herrera was one of many inconsolable faces when Athletic were beaten 3-0 by Atletico Madrid in Bucharest. His tears spoke of someone who truly cared about his club.

It isn’t the only club he cares about: two years after leaving Zaragoza, Herrera gave an emotional interview after beating his boyhood team with Athletic, denouncing the club’s calamitous leadership.

“The fans are always committed to the team and travel to the games, they don’t deserve this,” he said.

Going to watch Zaragoza every fortnight as a boy gave Herrera a perspective many modern footballers lack. “Seating has done a lot of
damage to football,” he told journalist and United We Stand editor Andy Mitten last year.

“Football has got to avoid being turned into the theatre. Football belongs to the fans.”

In the same interview, Herrera revealed a competitive spirit that will also please United fans.

“Teams used to come out and be booed and whistle, now they come out and line up together. I understand sportsmanship, but you should shake hands after a game, not before.”

Like most players, Herrera has been guilty of the odd unsporting act, diving for a penalty against Getafe last season. It wasn’t given, and afterwards he was man enough to apologise.

His grounded character was one of the reasons why, following United’s infamous failed pursuit of him last September, Athletic’s notoriously particular fans applauded him on his first day back at training, in contrast to their treatment of Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente, other top players who sought greener pastures.

Herrera initially struggled to get back into the team after the debacle, but a short while on the bench only made him stronger. He blossomed under Ernesto Valverde, a calmer figure than Bielsa but no less a tactician. The coach gave Herrera a freer midfield role, with Mikel Rico instead responsible for the forward charges. Five goals and five assists all season may not be statistics fans would expect for £28.8 million, but Herrera was crucial to Athletic finishing fourth in La Liga and qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in 16 years.

Ed Woodward going after Herrera again after last year’s madness was akin to calling an ex-fiancé a year after disappearing on the wedding day. It must have been awkward, but Herrera is a special player, and United are a special club. Here’s to a happy union.


About Richard Martin

Richard is a footballer writer based in Barcelona. He has written for The Telegraph and The Press Association. Follow @rich9908 on Twitter.

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50 Comments

  1. John says:

    In Short: In Ander Herrera we are getting a player who is already everything we wished Tom Cleverly (TC23) to be. :)

  2. ashtheking says:

    Welcome to united

  3. scholes18 says:

    welcome lad. credit where it is due, kudos to mr woody (who i still think does not understand or love football that much to show up at away matches). finally a midfielder (sorry to belgian).

    TC 23 has only one thing which can be compared to anything remotely awesome, that is his lady.

    shirt no for ander??? i will take that 18 no from the back of that sorry excuse of a footballer, fine him for insulting the legend’s no and give it to ander.

    off topic but that carvalho guy for whom the ‘chosen none’ was drooling looks some player.

    P.s: OT needs to change those red Chevrolet seats or at least refurnish them. i am not a superstitious guy i still thinks that legacy ruin-er has left some of his scent there.

  4. dannysoya LOVES USAIN BOLT says:

    Fantastic that we’ve signed him long before the tour starts so he’ll get maximum time to get used to the surroundings, the training methods and LVG’s system. CANNOT WAIT for the Swansea game now.

    I’m also hearing that we might be about to sign Luke Shaw next? WOW. What a day.

  5. demoniclsayer says:

    After this I would expect at least 3 more signings for 1 winger and 2 defenders. Lets hope the new signings are capable of leading United back to the top of the league and perhaps a few more European Champions.

  6. Tommy says:

    I watch a lot of Spanish football on a saturday and sunday night and this guy always impresses me, La Liga sometimers gets bad things said about it but you have to be technical gifted to perform their and Herrera certaintly is that, a great passer of the ball with fantastic engine to get around that pitch, wouldn mind sticking De Jong in the middle as well wih Herrera, we need a spoiler now we have got our creative man

  7. Gary Mitrovic says:

    Luke Shaw is on his way to Manchester and set for a medical tomorrow. Breaking news on skysports.

  8. Gary Mitrovic says:

    The fee has been agreed and is thought to be 30 million.

  9. Dan Young says:

    corr fucking hell ed woodwars. a year ago i was fully convinced you couldnt even finish up when banging your wife let alone a transfer of a professional footballer. now your sorting out 2 deals a day.

    no go home and bang your wife woody, ya deserve it ;)

  10. Tommy says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wPk33W4y9I Welcome to Manchester United, the lads got a great eye for a pass and good energy levels in the middle of the park, exactly what we need, Shaw in tomorrow as Gary pointed on. In other news, Januzaj starts for Belgium tonight for his first world cup game, Fellani also starts

  11. dannysoya LOVES USAIN BOLT says:

    Absolutely STUNNING day. After being hesitant to spend any money last year, we’ve spent 59 million pounds in the space of four hours. AMAZING.

    What the hell happened to Ed Woodward? Has he woken up? WOW. I am SO impressed with him this time.

    Now go get another midfielder at least. GO GO GO GO GO GO

  12. Gary Mitrovic says:

    Moyes will be sitting there and thinking to himself “one year too late” better late than never for me. I still don’t think he was the right man regardless, but Moyes was let down in the transfer window, I’ll admit that much.

    Anyway looking forward to the future now. Not been this positive in over a year! A top centre back and possibly another centre midfielder or winger would fit the bill. I’m being greedy now, but fuck it!

  13. slim says:

    First off Welcome Hererra, secondly and any truths to Luke Shaw set for a medical.
    The “reported” package scares the shit out of me. We just saw the by England team at this summers World Why would United do this. Baffles me to be honest. Over a hundred grand for a player with no European experience and an 18 year old at that. Oh what was it Pogba said he wanted again? Way too much if you ask me. The boys a talent and if the signing comes to pass, i guess time will tell whether it was a worthwhile investment

  14. Gary Mitrovic says:

    Slim, this is the price we pay for last season’s abject failure and also our lack of investment in the squad in recent years. It was either this or shop in the bargain basement again. Chelsea and co were all interested in Shaw and United blew them out the water to get their man. Like you say time will tell if the price tag was justified.

  15. dannysoya LOVES USAIN BOLT says:

    It’s very risky. 30 million pounds for a left back is unheard of anywhere especially for a 19 year old one but you cannot reap any rewards if you don’t push the boat out some times. Remember when the whole world was in uproar in 2006 when we paid 26 million pounds (in today’s money it would probably be like 50 plus million pounds) for a certain 18 year old from Everton? Or when we paid 30 million pounds for a certain centre back from Leeds United? The age is the reason why we’ve spent that much on him. You wouldn’t know he was 18 years old if you saw him play last year. Very mature for his age, he has attacking ability and is also defensively sound but the thing that impresses me the most about him is his positional sense. It’s amazing for someone that young to know how to get himself in the best position defensively time and time and time again.

    ALSO, it’s not my personal money that’s being spent. and it’s about fucking time we splashed out. Seems like ages since we were this aggressive in the transfer market. The big clubs always take risks so why not?

  16. Dan Young says:

    slim – he has over 60 games in the premier league all before his 19th birthday aswell as playing in a world cup. how can you not be happy with that. also, every player at shaws age is most certainly not going to have any european experience. luis suarez has barely any european experience, you think he will have problems in the champions league?

    we bring in 2 highly rated young players that have the potential to be world class and they both play in positions we desperately needed improved since last season and people decide to worry about how much its going to take out of the glazers pocket. un-fucking-believable!!

  17. Tommy says:

    @Slim

    How do you judge if a player is world class or not, ive said it countless times, hes the best LB ive seen play at OT in the last 2 years, premier league or champions league, hes a top top class player who is getting better and like Danny says its not our money, Id rather spend the money on players than it lining the Glazers pockets

  18. Gary Mitrovic says:

    I heard Danny Blind as an alternative the other day. What is that old saying? Never buy a player based on a World Cup showing? Who was mentioning Danny Blind before he had a good game against the hapless Spanish in Brazil? No one.

  19. slim says:

    DanYoung

    Good record, but with all due respect, Southampton is not a top tier club. Not saying we can’t or shouldn’t go for players at “lesser” clubs, however that contracts a bit steep in my opinion
    Tommy
    Might be their money but don’t get upset when they start to poke their fingers and noses into first team affairs.
    And i judge a player being World Class on experience, not solely of course and he’s had very limited exposure so no, to me he’s not World class. He’s a special talent and i wish him all the best, OT is a special place to ply your trade and go on to be the best, lets just hope he doesn’t go the typical over hyped player route that England has been producing over these past years

  20. UtdSenna says:

    Shaw is a bit overhyped and overpriced atm. But he might become a very good player in the future, if he wasn’t English he would cost 2/3 the price. Big risk might be average or really good who knows. I still think United should have the best English talent. Signed big English talents before, can’t see much wrong with this unless it means we won’t sign other top players. That said, English media/pundits and fans are very good at overhyping players in this league.

  21. Dan Young says:

    slim – out of interest mate what contract?

  22. Gary Mitrovic says:

    Slim, what are you talking about when saying don’t get upset when they stick their fingers and noses in first team affairs? You seriously suggesting the Glazers stick their noses in first team affairs? When have they ever done this? That’s a ludicrous comment.

  23. RepeatOf99 says:

    Having criticised him earlier in the day, let me take my foot out of my mouth and congratulate Woodward.

    Good to see us finally getting our targets, and before pre-season starts at that!

    I have a feeling both of these players will greatly strengthen our squad……good times! =)

  24. united till i die says:

    30m for shaw is a lot of money but if he’s our left back for the next 15 seasons then its money well spent. The lad is still developing and who better to at under than LvG. Todays signing just goes to show the importance of having a manager with a big reputation in charge. That reputation as a winner will have had influence on the thinking of both Herrera and shaw.

  25. Tommy says:

    @Gary

    Blind is good going forward i worry about him defensivily, he was avarage defensivily against the Aussies and Chile and the only time he looked impressive was against the Spanish who dont really attack the wings anyway.

    @Slim

    So unless youre experienced you cant be world class lol, like i say hes the best LB ive seen visit OT in the last 2 years and for me hes the best LB in the league so it will be a sound investment when injury aside he stays at United for 10 – 12 years. Irresective of whether he is 19 or 26, hes top top class this lad, A great piece of business from United

  26. dannysoya LOVES USAIN BOLT says:

    Just for those who are still a bit unsure of what exactly we might be getting in Shaw. Take a look at this video. Maturity, technical ability, excellent change of pace, awareness both attacking and defensively. And he’s EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5Ip7bgTM7o

  27. EC7 says:

    Welcome aboard Ander! Hopefully the touch of class our midfield has been missing since Scholsey was in his pomp. Guilleme Balague was raving about him and saying he was a shoe in for Xavi’s position for Spain once he’s retired. That can only be a good thing as it means he’s doing the business for us!

    On Shaw. If he turns out to be the best left back United has ever had then it’s money well spent in my opinion. He has the potential to be so. I was at St Mary’s on the last day of the season and you could just tell the kid has a great future. Stupidly quick, great positioning sense and was a threat going forward. Him and Adnan had a great battle that day.

    On a side note, could someone clear something up for me. When Eric did the Kung fu kick, what action did the club take? If I remember rightly did we not suspend him straight away and impose a 4 month ban before the FA took action on the matter?

    Cheers

  28. slim says:

    dan young

    My original post had reported in quotes as in whats being reported by the media

    Gary
    Well, they never paid north of 30 million for a youngster before and they;re in the wild for the first time. SAF retires and the fail to qualify for Europe. There’s a lot to get tetchy about. Old man Glazers gone as well, new people , new ideas (and maybe not for the best) but lets keep our fingers crossed. I’m equally hopeful as i am worried that they stay away from team affairs

  29. Gary Mitrovic says:

    Slim, don’t see that happening at all. You’re letting your imagine run away with you. They spent 70 odd million on Felliani and Mata and didn’t stick their noses in Moyes’s business. Moyes would still have a job if he’d got top four. What difference does it make signing a youngster compared to players in their early or mid twenties? The glazers are not compete idiots, anything but clearly. Van Gaal is the man in charge when it comes to the football and that will be that.

  30. slim says:

    Tommy

    Yes. Unless you’re experienced you can’t be world class. You could be very talented and have a reputation that precedes you, be coveted by top clubs, you still won’t be world class till you’ve matured and got experience in the game. Don’t get me wrong, not saying a young player can’t be world class or only 29/30 players are World class. Just that a player must have solid experience of football over the years to be truly considered world class. You face the best to be the best. How are you world class when you have less than 10 international caps and zero appearances in Europes’ top cup competitions?

  31. Gary Mitrovic says:

    Tommy, I’m happy about these two signings, rally optimistic, but the centre of our defence is still a major concern. Who do you think we might go for now that Garay is off the market? We desperately need a signing in the heart of our defence without doubt.

  32. Tommy says:

    @EC7

    The incident was in january time I think if my memory serves me correct and we suspended him for the rest of the season, that was a Fergie and club deicison, but then Graham Kelly who was at the FA at the time rediculously added the extra couple of months for the following season, hope that helps mate

  33. Tommy says:

    @Garey

    I said on the other thread im very dissapointed we have not signed Garey, hes a beast of a centre half in the Vidic mould, I think we need 2 especially as is likely we sign our 4th injury prone centre half Vermalen, I think we need another one aswell seems mangela will join city, I cant think of too many top class ones that are available, maybe Vermaelens the best we can get

  34. EC7 says:

    @Tommy

    Cheers. I thought that was pretty much the way it went. I was putting an argument across saying why don’t Liverpool take the moral high ground and ban him themselves, ok maybe not after this event as he was representing Uruguay but certainly after the Ivanovic attack or even after racially abusing Pat? Why aren’t the club accepting what this silly twat is doing is wrong?

  35. EC7 says:

    @ Tommy

    I’d try and snatch Lovren from Southampton. I rate him quite highly.

  36. slim says:

    I think two more signings and we could be set. So far we’ve got the LB and CM, now we need a defender and a ball winner in the middle of the park. Garay like Gary mentioned is a good shout. Not sure about Vermaelens though. Not had a good record injury wise and i find him suspect atimes, not so keen on him to be honest. I was glad when he came out and shot the rumour down

  37. EC7 says:

    @Slim

    If Rafael doesn’t get his act together this season then I’d question we’d need a new right back as well, also depending on the progress of Varela.

  38. Tommy says:

    @EC7

    One thing I will say about Lovren is anyone that has either come through the ranks are plays their are brought up playing football the right way, I fully respect the players that come from Saints, on another thread you mentioned about Graham Hunter, I think he gets a lot of bad publicity over Thiago when he never said Thiago was going to sign, he said Thiago was pushing for the move but he was unsure whether Moyes was 100% on him, and he said that throughout and some Un ited fans took it as gospel he was going to sign for United, keep in mind that he did an interview ive just read and he said Moyes personally phoned him about Herrera last year and it was Hunter that told Moyes about his clause in contract and when it expires and thats just an example of him having contacts, these type of people, our own Andy Mitton, Guillem Balague, Gabrial marcotti etc they have people phoning them up all the time and with Hunter being Barca based with apparent close connctions to Pep has said Schweinstiger has been offered to us, Balague I think mentioned it as well, i am inclined to believe him, that doesnt mean he will be signing him and doesnt mean Hunter has said we will, it will obviously be up to LVG

  39. Tommy says:

    @EC7

    Id say if we plays his 3 5 2 formation that he has been using at the dutch, we may play Tony V as the right wing back over Rafa

  40. Marq says:

    Well, thats one signing nailed, with Shaw looking up next very soon, kudos to Woodward.

    LVG must have worked overtime to go through the scouting reports to sanction the moves

    In other news, you gotta feel for a half fit Ronaldo playing for Portugal, the team is so shit even England would beat them. Messi at least have some good players with him

  41. The One says:

    More positive news on transfer front re: Luke Shaw; skysports reporting that a fee of £30m has been agreed and he’s due for a medical – http://www1.skysports.com/football/news/11667/9362933/transfer-news-manchester-united-agree-fee-for-southampton-left-back-luke-shaw

  42. The One says:

    Dan Young @20:22, lolololol!!

  43. The One says:

    The very high price we have to pay for Luke Shaw is due mainly to the fact he’s English; had he been any other nationality, he wouldn’t cost half as much.

    As for his ability, Shaw’s a super immense talent and in my view, he has a wise old head on very young shoulders. We’ll have a potential world’s best left back on our hands if the deal goes through. LvG is known to have the ability to bring out the best in young players, so this augers well for us.

  44. Marq says:

    Haha, this is funny. Suarez almost got to bit someone else previously, the guy was lucky.

    http://9gag.com/gag/aG9mPA7

  45. red war says:

    Please, do sell the leftovers of a former player called Carrick and give this midfield some brutality.

    Amen to this.

    Mata, Herrera and Fellaini plus Cleverley and Fletcher for backups. Then you’ ve got januzaj, kagawa, rooney, van Persie, nani and valencia to choose for the forward positions.

    So, we definetely need that muscle guy in midfield.

    Also, sell Young.

  46. EC7 says:

    @Tommy

    That’s a good shout actually on AV if we do adopt a 3-5-2 formation (or variant of one), he’s definitely got the engine on him to be a success there as has Shaw on the other side. In that case though we definitely need a new centre half and one that is comfortable on the ball and looks good playing from the back. Smalling looks an accident waiting to happen on the ball, he just doesn’t look very elegant or comfortable at all. I do think he’s fairly solid though, it’s just his concentration can let him down. Phil Jones could come good if he’s played regularly at CB and not shafted about in every given position possible.

    On Hunter, I just remember him saying on talk sport once about Iniesta and that he was coming to United once his contract had run down but nothing ever happened. Same with Thiago but obviously for a fee. Maybe there was truth in it and I’m being harsh as things do get in the way and it’s not unforeseen for players and the club to change there minds.
    I would love Sweinsteiger at United though and he’s a more realistic target than Vidal in my opinion having previously worked with LVG. He’s the sort of experienced midfield general/organiser we could do with and desperately need IMO.

  47. OpikBidin says:

    Still need a ball winning CM, Personally I’d say we should go for William Carvalho, his price should be reduced thanks to the WC. but he is quality.

  48. Big Vex says:

    Herrera and Shaw within a day! Very excited about this new era. We can all finally put last season behind us.

  49. The One says:

    Another baby face assassin, this time from midfield, love it!! :)

  50. Djunfitforwork says:

    I’m really pleased about these signing -esp Herrera. He seems a bundle of energy -which imo is needed in the team -esp in midfield. His technique is very good also plus he comes across as a sound guy who will fit in very well

    As for Shaw -I don’t care if we’ve “overpayed” -as long as it does not put too much pressure on him and effect his performances.

    I never believed that The Glazers had offered up a “£200 Million War Chest” -but hope LVG can press for more top class signings.

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