A Basque heir to Michael Carrick's Manchester United throne - Ander Herrera
With Carrick in the last legs, United need to act fast to find an able replacement - and Ander Herrera is just the man for the job.
Sir Alex Ferguson had a herculean task at hand when the imminent departure of Roy Keane had to be dealt with in 2005. He replaced him with Michael Carrick, who was purchased for a fee of £20m from Tottenham Hotspur. The English midfielder was a like-for-like replacement only on paper; Keane was an all-action midfielder with unrivalled tenacity in every tackle that he cluttered his opposition with and was a destroyer.
Carrick, on the other hand, is a different case, he is a graceful deep playing orchestrator to screen the back four. His exploits, not only over the last 10 years, but during the post-Ferguson era, in particular, highlights his importance. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have all had stints without Carrick in the team, and failed to find the right balance.
The Englishman often returns to the team and causes an instant impact that the respective managers looked for. There’s an instant calmness in possession, with Carrick’s excellent reading of the game, and his experience in the Premier League makes him a perfect fit for that role.
This cycle in the post-Ferguson era has been the most evident this season. It is no coincidence that Manchester United hasn’t lost since Carrick’s introduction to the starting XI, dating back to a comfortable 3-1 win over Swansea. However, at 35, Carrick is in the twilight of his career, very much like another talismanic figure in the team - Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
A replacement for the midfielder is high in the priority list in the summer, with names such as Marco Verratti and Tiemoué Bakayoko, regularly doing rounds in the papers. But Manchester United already have a player with the calibre to take up the mantle of the former Tottenham man – Ander Herrera.
The £29.4m signing from Athletic Bilbao more than two and a half years ago was a player everyone was yet to see the best of, even after two entire seasons at Old Trafford. He has always endeared himself to the fans but failed to repay such endearment via his performances on the pitch on a regular basis.
His minutes were limited under van Gaal, but, under Jose Mourinho, he has reinvented himself into a defensive midfielder, and is now one of the first names on the Portuguese manager's XI.
The Spanish midfielder always played as a creative midfielder and even as an attacking midfielder on occasion during his time at Bilbao. Upon Mourinho’s tinkering with Herrera’s position on the pitch, he’s managed to simultaneously unlock a whole new dimension to his game. The revived Spaniard has injected a burst of energy into United’s midfield, with his tireless running and defensive contribution particularly catching the eye.
(Video Courtesy: KaiiZoFilms Backup YouTube Channel)
The game is ever-changing and the qualities necessary for a deep lying playmaker who can switch to a destroyer, or ‘Regista’, have certainly evolved as well. Carrick has, occasionally, been overrun in midfield this season. The showdown against Liverpool at Old Trafford is the perfect example, where he was subbed off at half time.
Carrick’s age certainly seems to be catching up to him, and this is where Herrera steps in – he is the perfect blend of silk and steel. The 27-year-old is not only the ideal replacement for the Englishman but an upgrade in certain aspects. Herrera is more mobile and agile than Carrick, and also has an eye for goal.
Herrera’s ability isn’t limited to breaking up play but also to carry the ball further up the pitch. The former Zaragoza man has won an impressive 2.36 tackles and made 3.18 interceptions a game, enhancing his credentials for that role. A defensive midfielder who has the ability to start attacks and even deliver the killer ball (his assist for Ibrahimovic’s winner in the EFL Cup final speaks for itself) enhances his credentials to play in that role.
The icing on the cake, of course, is Herrera’s personality.
Since the Basque player’s rebirth under Mourinho, which was first noticed during his cameo in the first Manchester derby of the season, Herrera has become their chief midfield enforcer. Mourinho has always had a few powerhouses in his teams over the years. Players who wear their battle scars as badges of honour and who “sweat blood”, quoting the manager’s own words.
Herrera is, without a doubt, a perfect fit for the typical Mourinho captain. His scrap-and-skill style of play and workaholic approach have been heavily applauded by players, fans and Mourinho alike.
“He is the Spanish Roy Keane” tweeted a fan after his heroics against Liverpool at Anfield. He’s done everything to prove this season that he’s got the ability to succeed the ageing Michael Carrick at the mantle of United’s midfield and do so with tenacity, vigour and passion reminiscent of the great Roy Keane.