It’s fair to say that Guillermo Varela, David Moyes’ first signing, hasn’t made a great impact at Old Trafford. But you can expect much more from Ander Herrera. As his £29 million fee suggests, the Basque midfielder will be major part of the rebuilding process under Louis van Gaal.
Herrera starred as a dynamic number 10 for Athletic Bilbao last season, dictating the flow of games as they secured Champions League qualification. His ball circulation was particularly impressive, whether exchanging short passes with Ander Iturraspe and Mikel Rico, or teeing up the lone striker, Aritz Aduriz. According to Squawka data, he created 1.86 chances per 90 minutes in the league – greater than every United player in his position except Juan Mata (2.42).
Unlike Mata, his tally of goals and assists isn’t outstanding: he’s yet to score a brace, for example. So it’s likely he will operate in a deeper-lying role at United. His lean frame – he’s no, say, Nemanja Matic – is deceptive. Marcelo Bielsa preferred him as an anchor, but also suggested he “could become one of the best players in that position [number 10].” He’s no stranger to tough tackles, collecting seven yellow cards over the course of last campaign.
Exactly the type of player, then, who can get Marouane Fellaini ticking again. As the pivot in a 4-2-3-1 – although Van Gaal tends to favour a 4-3-3, and his 3-5-2 has transformed the Netherlands – they can form a formidable partnership. However, he could well be muscled off the ball against more physical sides, and is far from his best when forced out wide. A plan B might be needed: someone more industrious covering for Herrera, allowing the 24-year-old to express himself.
There’s also the possibility of bulking up. Jose Mourinho has made similar comments about Oscar: by no means a lightweight, but often underwhelming in the second half of last season.
The only other question mark is his lack of big game experience, especially when you consider the other names to have circled the rumour mill, such as Cesc Fabregas, Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger. He hasn’t received a senior call-up for Spain or been part of a title race – the level where, you’d imagine, Van Gaal would like to reach in the next couple of years – but it’s a challenge he will relish.
He seems to understand the size of the club, who he came up against in the 2012 Europa League – “the best game I’ve ever played,” he told FourFourTwo recently – and described United’s bid last summer as a “big compliment.” It even appeared to affect his form in the first few games back, but he managed to focus himself. Settling into a new country shouldn’t be a major issue, having already played alongside Mata and David De Gea.
It’s little surprise that Athletic were reluctant to let him go. A bright future at United awaits.