Voted Manchester United’s player of the year last season, the fall from grace of Ander Herrera this season has been one that some Man United fans have found hard to fathom? Herrera has endured a mixed career at United, criminally underused by Van Gaal, to first name on the sheet for Mourinho last season, to forgotten man this season. So what’s gone wrong with Herrera? And why is he suddenly such a divisive figure amongst United fans?
The big positive with Herrera is he gets the importance of wearing a Manchester United shirt. In a sentence he gets what Manchester United is all about. Passion, intensity, drive and an appetite to win and play fast football. Herrera at his best is quick across the ground, hard in to the tackle, and has an eye for a defence splitting pass from deep. Not to mention a very good cross when he finds himself out wide on the right. Reading that back, he’s exactly what Manchester United currently need to complete a balanced midfield three with Pogba and Matic.
Jose Mourinho has been reluctant to use Herrera this season though. An ever present last season many predicted that the arrival of Matic would see United move to a more dynamic midfield three, with Pogba free to express his game on the left hand side, Matic holding things centrally from deep, and Herrera the tenacious box to box midfielder on the right with a bit of everything to his game. It’s a combination, that sat here in mid February with Mourinho’s midfield a laughing stock, makes total sense. The question is why has Mourinho ignored it for six months? Or more to the point, why has he ignored Herrera?
Amazingly, Herrera didn’t make his first Premier league start until mid September. Benched throughout the start of the campaign in August, Herrera went from Mourinho’s most trusted player to a bit part bench player. Mourinho wanted to utilise the now exposed and defunct 4231 formation and Matic and Pogba were the 2 Mourinho wanted to use. By the time Mourinho did turn to Herrera it was evident to everyone that Herrera was no longer the player of last season. The dynamism had given way to sluggishness and an odd reluctance to play a forward pass. In short Ander Herrera was no longer the player United fans loved.
With that came the usual, but somewhat unexpected and shortsighted, criticism of Herrera. “Sell him” “He’s useless” were just some of the comments flying around the United fan community, and a player that only a few short months ago had been fundamental to United’s season was suddenly on the scrapheap.
The question still remains why? What has caused Herrera to go from that exciting wears his heart on the sleeve player to one that looks lost on a football pitch? When you look back over the season, even when Pogba was out injured Mourinho regularly opted for Fellaini over Herrera. Limited Fellaini over Herrera who at his best optimises what United should be about! With Mourinho ignoring Herrera’s talents so consistently there can only be one conclusion. Over the summer something happened between Mourinho and Herrera that destroyed their great relationship of last season.
Some say Herrera wanted a move and Mourinho refused it. Others say it’s because Herrera won’t commit to a long term contract and is running it down so he can go for nothing. Both points would lean towards Mourinho being right and refusing to use a player who isn’t committed to the club. The only issue with that is that whenever Herrera has played for United it’s very clear that he loves the place and is totally committed. So what else could be the issue? Could it be as simple as Mourinho decided he wanted to go down a different direction? That he didn’t like the speed and dynamism of Herrera’s midfield play and he wanted taller more simple players like Matic and Fellaini in there? His selections over the season and introduction of another of those types of players in McTominay would add credence to that theory.
Whatever the reason, Herrera is no longer the player he was and that’s a big shame for Manchester United. A midfield three of Pogba, Matic and Herrera at his best would provide United with the perfect balance as they approach the most important part of their season.