The picture was not the brightest for Ander Herrera of Manchester United in August 2018. The Spaniard was entering the final year of his contract, courtesy of the activation of an extension, a process that was not made public. Herrera almost lost his place to Nemanja Matic last season when he started only 22 games, exactly half of his total from the previous season. Only 13 of those starts came in the league, bad luck for him since he did not score goals. And he had the possibility of Fred, another midfielder costing £ 52 million, for the competition.
Ten league games later, things had hardly improved. Herrera had ambaded 89 minutes of league football. Inter Milan asked him for his availability, and could he blame him for wanting to go and play regular football?
However, while Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford have been making headlines, Herrera also shined with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who started nine of the last ten games in the league and played 845 minutes.
The 29-year-old is showing some form now that he seems to have become a regular starter on a winning team. He settled in Cheshire with his partner and his three-year-old daughter, his closest colleagues, Juan Mata, David De Gea, Marcos Rojo and United's Spanish goalkeeping coach, Emiliano Alvarez.
As expected, Herrera is very happy with Solskjaer and wants to stay at the club beyond this summer. United wants him to stay. There have been talks and offers, but it will be for the club to announce any news of a new extension of the contract. Bury, et al., I can wait for now.
"He's a midfielder, he's a little different from Paul, he's a Nemanja with his physical attributes," said an admirer Solskjaer of the former Real Zaragoza player and Athletic Bilbao after another impressive performance against Brighton last Saturday. "But he runs and runs, he wins the ball, he plays in a simple way, he also makes some good runs in the box."
There was nothing in the rumors that linked him to a return to Athletic Bilbao. Herrera is thriving on an attack system where United players are encouraged to move forward and let their opponents do the worries instead of the other way around. He has been able to show some of the touches that saw him labeled as a fantasy Player in Spain, one with unique creative attributes. United fans saw that when he played at Athletic Bilbao, defeating United at home and away in 2012, but they only saw him in flashes at Old Trafford.
Herrera (and Mata) recently met with his former Athletic coach, Marcelo Bielsa, who always insisted that the attack was the best form of defense, for lunch in England. He would love to play against his former boss as much as most Manchester United would like the games against Leeds United to come back.
Herrera is popular with United fans as well. Some did not rate him, mocking his warm appreciation of English football; The culture, the fans and what should be playing for Manchester United and question their talent. The opinion of Paul Scholes in early December that "you have to question the quality of the player" was not isolated, but that was judging a lower Herrera in confidence and regular football than it is now. Herrera loves being in United. Is not it better to have players like that?
And he is decent. Would it be on a list for the five best midfielders in football? No. Would Darren Fletcher have been? No. Both are disinterested team players who bring balance and bite.
He is not from Scholes' clbad, although he excelled in the FA Cup semi-final against the Spurs last season. He just wants to play regular football. His two starts in Spain three years ago came after having played well for his club, but like others, he suffered through the administrative revolving door and the ever-changing tactics and alignments at Old Trafford. Herrera was approved by David Moyes, he joined to play for Louis van Gaal, then he had to adapt again for José Mourinho, although in all that time, he never played for someone as crazy as Bielsa.
Herrera is off the field and leads a quiet life, except when he looks at his beloved Zaragoza with teammates from the stands instead of the VIP areas. On the pitch, he is busy in a midfield with Pogba and Matic at the base. Those three defeated Juventus, but Mourinho did not return to play together in midfield.
Herrera likes and is benefiting from Solskjaer's insistence that full-backs attack and push. This opens the field. Herrera's job is to look up and move the ball forward or, in the words of the manager of Belgium, Roberto Martínez, "look wherever you have been, it has always been useful".
Herrera has now played more games at United than in all his previous clubs together. He is fit, fighter and full of energy, tackles and annoys the opponents. It is perfect for Solskajer's compelling game and he knows that the Norwegian wants him to take a risk and not be afraid of the consequences. He will not be knocked down by five games if he makes a bad pbad. He is also versatile, can play in four positions and, at least in his mind, can score. He has scored two goals this season,
Like the other players, Herrera returns to enjoy the training. He likes the bustle of the great games and the cultures of the distant days. He has a great game at Arsenal on Friday night. Herrera was one of the best players when the two teams met at Old Trafford last month in a 2-2 draw full of errors and entertaining. Herrera scored a goal, but United is in a much better place now, effective enough to help establish a victory.