United have announced the signing of 24 year old Ander Herrera, a Spanish Under 23 international from Athletic Bilbao after triggering a release clause in the player’s contract. United fans will be relieved that after a difficult season the club has moved to strengthen its midfield resources, an area of weakness.
Herrera is often referred to as an attacking/creative midfielder, but in truth he is also combative; he could, therefore, be considered to be the type of box-to-box player that United have been missing for many years. Statistically, Herrera was Bilbao’s second highest maker of chances last season, contributing 5 assists. Over his three years at the club he created 53 chances in total, a creditable return. He is strong and athletic with a good engine, a defensive asset who averaged 2.64 successful tackles a game in his 33 starts last year. He has good distribution whether in circulating short passes in midfield or feeding the attack. At Bilbao he has tended to play in an advanced midfield role, but his range of qualities suggest he could start from further back as a player to link the front and back of the team.
United have a history of trying to sign the player after he impressed in Athletic’s Europa League tie against the club two years ago. His energy and creativity impressed Sir Alex, and David Moyes is believed to have made a bid to sign him last summer and again in January. Last summer’s bid came amid a summer of transfer chaos, which climaxed in three alleged “imposters” who claimed to represent the club visiting the Spanish FA on the last day of the season in a reported mission to force a deal through by paying off a release clause. We will probably never know the truth of what went on. As fans we are all relieved to see this summer’s interest in the player reach a more dignified conclusion.
Where will he fit in?
Against United, Herrera starred in Bilbao’s midfield as Marcelo Bielsa’s hard running high tempo team gave United a lesson in both legs. He is the type of player who will appeal to the new United manager van Gaal, himself an exponent of a similar dynamic style. Van Gaal is known to favour a central midfield three comprising a defensive holding player, a box-to-box player and a creative number 10. Herrera would appear to best fit that box-to-box role. In signing him, van Gaal has moved early to find a missing piece of that midfield jigsaw, but wherever he plays, his all-round strength can only be an asset, strengthening an area of weakness.
Herrera joins United on the back of a successful La Liga season where he was an integral part of Athletic Bilbao’s fourth place finish and resultant qualification for next year’s Champions League. United can’t offer him that delight next year and the player has chosen to forgo it for a new adventure in the Premier League.
Ander Herrera, welcome to Old Trafford.