Ander Herrera: The epitome of a proper Manchester United player
Talent and skill are the essential qualities that are of utmost importance to succeed in any field, let alone sport.
That is almost accurate, but it is not the entire truth. If last week is anything to go by, then it takes more than the aforementioned qualities to succeed in this arduous world of football.
Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool were beaten and bruised by clubs with exceptional and technically-gifted players in the first legs. But when they both shockingly knocked out Barcelona and Ajax, it once again proved to the world that football isn’t only about ability, philosophy, and gifted footballers.
It is also about emotions, feelings, togetherness, and sheer will power to keep knocking on the doors when they have been shut and slammed in their faces.
The week was about players like Divock Origi, Gini Wijnaldum, Moussa Sissoko, Lucas Moura, and Andy Robertson, among many others. Some of them have been outcasts, second string, and relegated players.
They had to patiently wait for their chances and did not possess silver spoons in their mouths. But one quality that makes them revered is that they gave their all when called into action, and thus deservedly will feature in the Champions League final between two of the hardest working teams in the Premier League.
Hence, a week in which the importance of hard work, tough mentality, and leadership have been accentuated by those remarkable turnarounds, Ander Herrera’s inevitable departure which was confirmed yesterday will deprive United of all the above desirable and crucial traits that Ander brought so elegantly to the team.
In no way was the Spaniard as talented as some of his teammates, but as cliché as it sounds, he knew what it meant to wear the United jersey, to step foot on the lush green grass of Old Trafford, playing in front of 70,000 fans that pay their hard earned money to watch their heroes.
He gave his all because he not only represented the team but more importantly represented millions around the globe that have fallen in love with the beautiful club. Herrera said:
“I have always said the same: if, one day, the manager decides to drop me, I will be ready to help the team for 10 minutes, 12 minutes or even two minutes.
“I think that’s the way one team can be successful. The other day I had to be on the bench, Andreas played, and maybe one day Paul has to be on the bench.”
“This is a squad and, in my opinion, a very strong squad. Of course, I am so happy with my moment in the team, but I cannot go crazy with that. The successful seasons are made by the squad, not only by 11, 12 or 13 players.”
These comments made by the Spaniard encapsulate all the reasons why he is the perfect Manchester United player. Old Trafford identifies a good player when it sees one. And Ander Herrera was one player that the United faithful embraced.
In a team that boasts the extraordinary talents of Paul Pogba, the speed and mesmerising dribbling of Anthony Martial, and the homegrown lads like Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, it is arguably Herrera that United fans most loved.
In his early days at the club, Herrera struggled for first-team opportunities under the rigid Louis Van Gaal, but Mourinho’s appointment saw a shift in his playing role, which ultimately paved the way for a brilliant season.
Initially brought in as #10 for the club, Mourinho converted him into a deep-lying midfielder. This proved to be quite a successful move as they added three trophies at the end of the season to the already filled trophy cabinet, which also included a first Europa League victory, confirming their return to Champions League football, and also completing their trophy collection.
Recognising his efforts, the fans voted en masse for the Basque, and Herrera won the prestigious Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award.
The following season wasn’t a smooth sailing campaign by no means for the Spaniard, as Nemanja Matic’s move to United meant an added presence to challenge him for a midfield spot. However, Herrera was up to the task and played wherever and whenever he was asked to with utmost conviction, sincerity, and dedication.
The lack of opportunities, questions about his abilities, and the unjust treatment did not act as an impediment in his performances on the pitch. He did not cry, condemn, criticise, and complain about the situation, nor did he make a fuss about things, behaviours exhibited by multiple top-level footballers when things don’t go according to their liking and preference.
Instead, the Basque carried on with his duties and displayed maturity and a sense of responsibility that is only shown by a real leader.
His tenacity in the middle of the park, energy, work rate, and willingness to cover every blade of grass made him an important presence in the side.
Humble and selfless in victory, but apologetic and ready to take all the blame in every defeat, his contributions were treasured by real football fans, but unfortunately couldn’t catch the attention of business entities who have an eye for catchy, glamorous, and commercial personalities.
In a squad that consists of exorbitantly overpaid superstars, aged, overrated 'experienced' campaigners, fashion and social media celebrities, Ander was just that ordinary bloke with an ordinary haircut that celebrated like a crazy possessed man performing his knee slides and going absolutely berserk.
He played with his heart on his sleeve unlike many of his teammates. He was one of us, a personality we could relate to, and that made him incredibly special in the eye of every fan around the globe.
And as he so eloquently and poignantly mentioned in his farewell interview - once you are a Red Devil, you will always be a Red Devil.