“I still enjoy football. I love football. I love my profession. What I don’t like is cases where owners prioritise their interests over the club. Football can’t be solely about profit.” – Ander Herrera.
Footballers rarely make these kinds of textured remarks about the game, but then, is Ander Herrera a normal footballer? In a 2014 interview, from which that quote is picked up, the then 25-year-old can be figured as startlingly candid.
Practiced indifference has become the norm these days, and players train themselves quite literally to express their feelings only within the game’s strict platitudes.
Herrera, however, seemed a bit colourful, and didn’t hesitate to speak effusively about the sport. Not what the sport has done for him, how it has enriched him or the life it hands him to lead, but the actual sport: goal-kicks, corners, tackles and goals. It’s the essence we are speaking of!
Here are the 5 reasons why we believe Ander Herrera should become the next Manchester United captain:
It’s rare! The new-age supporters are often forced to believe that, after signing a first professional contract, a player’s love for football gradually evaporates. Yes, it’s difficult to deny it, too – watch them promoting products or talking to a television camera after every match and unintentionally express their scripted joylessness.
Herrera’s differences draw the fans’ energy from his reluctance to conform. He may be seen speaking enthusiastically, addressing the parts of his game that need improvement and those of which he’s very proud, but his love travels beyond the pitch. His career anecdotes include supporting the Old Trafford faithful’s protests at Real Zaragoza, commenting on UEFA’s ticketing philosophy in the Europa League, and lending his reputation to other fan interests.
At this stage in the game’s history, when the board members’ tricky relationship with the supporters and the first team exists almost abstractly, Herrera would always be a popular figure at any club.
But at Old Trafford, where the reactions have been so drastic and the acrimony so harsh, he’s especially welcome, symbolising authentic values. Herrera has emerged as a real person with a real-world outlook and, this year, that’s highly seductive.
But this unique story, the increasing affection, the bond between the player and his supporters, has found other roots also.
Incredible Stats This Season
Ander Herrera has registered as many assists (2) in the Premier League this season as he managed in the whole of last season.
Great pass. pic.twitter.com/BdCkbhDnYP
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 11, 2016
The Spaniard arrived from Athletic Bilbao in the summer of 2014, but struggled with consistency in his debut season, as the switch from La Liga to the Premier League proved extremely challenging, particularly under the misguidance of Louis van Gaal.
However, under the tutelage of Mourinho, it’s been a blossoming season for Herrera so far. The 27-year-old midfield maestro has established himself as a regular starter, and his overall game has seen great improvement.
For example, his assist for Henrikh Mkhitaryan against Tottenham was brilliant. His overall first-half numbers were not bad, either. And the midfielder’s assist for Mkhitaryan also equalled his total from last season. If this stat is not a sign of Herrera’s development, we don’t know what is.
An Inspiration In The Dressing Room
Late March, 2015. Steven Gerrard was called up as a second-half substitute by Brendan Rodgers, with Liverpool trailing Manchester United by one goal at Anfield. Almost immediately after kick-off, Herrera would thunder into Gerrard and tempt the Liverpool skipper into a petulant stamp; the referee flashed out red card at the Liverpool legend, and another infamous Premier League moment came.
To some extent, Herrera’s involvement in that incident has been lost to its greater significance, but think deeper – it highly described his playing personality. In the most hostile atmosphere a Manchester United player can experience, he took an axe to a local icon.
Obviously, he also played exceptionally well and contributed fully to secure one of the most satisfying performances United would manage under Louis van Gaal, but it were those few seconds after half-time which actually settled down as most vivid.
“I always looked at other players at Real Zaragoza – Gus Poyet was a role model for me, and then the national team players like Xavi and Iniesta, but so were the United players like Scholes and Butt.”
As Herrera has grown into a legend-like figure, and as he is now a first-team regular under Jose Mourinho, appreciation for his emotional influence has also climbed up at the top. For a long time, United’s midfield has lacked personality. It’s often seen average technique and vision, but at the expense of other, weightier characteristics. A little heart and even less to fear forced this area of the pitch inconsistent.
But Herrera has inoculated a nasty edge; cultured passer though he is, there’s also some devil you can find in his play. He’s the most effective vocal presence under Mourinho, and evidently, often ready to face accusatory questions after a poor result, but part of his substance comes from the nastiness. Herrera often trades off his aesthetic: his sweet, impish face can conceal his darker energies. He may not look it, but he’s really a big-club bully – the talismanic Black Knight willing to do anything to win.
Hunger For Improvement In Every Aspect
Then comes the parallel line, you talk about an outrageous comparison with Roy Keane: Alex Ferguson’s monster. No matter how much tempting and convenient that may be, it’s inaccurate – and also evidently not how Herrera sees himself as a player.
Other than being midfielders, the players he admires were all actually more rounded than Keane, and all used to influence games in more delicate ways. Significantly, they are also footballers’ footballers, whom any players at the club can look forward to: players whose appeal relied on understanding all of their various functions and, by implication, their understated importance.
It’s completely normal for a Spaniard of Herrera’s generation to draw inspiration from Xavi and Andres Iniesta, national icons as they are. Like that, having come from the youth system of Real Zaragoza, his affection for Poyet not at all difficult to explain.
But looking up to Nicky Butt! Isn’t it bizarre? That’s an acquired taste.
It’s different, and proves a never ending appetite for all aspects of midfield play. Not only the reverse passes and dangerous tackles, but for covering space and showing for the ball; between them, the above mentioned players cover their position’s complete spectrum. Now just combine their skill sets and you would discover a technically flawless player of unparalleled commitment.
Understanding The Periphery Of The Game
This is a constant theme whenever you speak of Herrera, on and off the field. No one at Manchester United celebrates with more joy or sincerity when a goal is scored, and none of the other players (yes, even Rooney) look quite as crestfallen after a lost match.
That sincerity extends into his relationship with the media, too. Beyond a gentle covering of general honesty, his interviews typically see the expression of a genuine belief – be it a recent performance or, more generally, about the way the game should have been played, governed or arbitrated.
He seems in great control to almost every aspect of the game, and fascinated by the wildest corners that his peers routinely neglect; whether it’s his interaction with fans or leadership quality.
Herrera seeks the full, immersive footballing experience, and for supporters and team-mates alike, that can become truly inspiring.
Fans basically respond to players they can relate to, whereas players react to someone they can admire. Unusually, Herrera is able to play both roles. He’s grounded enough by not ignoring the trouble found on football’s periphery, but bolstered with enough sense of self to still be a factor within its grand centre. He is blessed with skill, but also a dangerous weapon – an angel with the ball, a demon without the ball.
In essence, you may call him the perfect modern day hero; the ideal moral focal point for a club that lacks a definitive identity, and a perfect candidate for team captaincy.
Ander Herrera – Desire, Commitment, Passionate and Inspiring to watch. pic.twitter.com/5nekTofOUe
— BlameFootball (@blameFootball) December 12, 2016