Football Features

Why Man Utd and ‘PSG target’ Ander Herrera are actually holding each other back

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 14:54, 22 March 2019

Ander Herrera is being linked with a summer move to Paris Saint-Germain.

The Spaniard is out of contract at Manchester United in the summer and there it has recently been claimed he has a move agreed with the Parisian club to join them on a free when his deal expires. Since then, ESPN have reported that Herrera doesn’t have a deal yet, but he does interest PSG. And given they will lose Adrien Rabiot on a free this summer, you can see why they’d want Herrera.

This is the part where Manchester United need to step in and secure their man, right? Pay Herrera what he wants to keep him in Manchester and prevent him going to, and strengthening, a rival, yes? He’s been at the club for five years, has played almost 200 games, put in several enormous performances and, yes, helped the club win trophies. In fact he has a trophy-winning assist to his name!

Moreover, the fans adore him. He’s the popular choice to be made captain when Antonio Valencia leaves the club in the summer. He’s The People’s Champ, really. Ander’s command of English is better than most Englishmen, he plays the game with Roy Keane levels of passion and commitment, and despite his top-notch technique, he’s not above a bit of nastiness if need be (just ask Eden Hazard’s shins).

And he loves the club, he loves the city. This is a guy who on his days off goes wandering around Manchester’s Northern Quarter taking pictures like some adorable student over here on an exchange program. There’s seemingly nothing he won’t do for the club, so he has to be untouchable and renewed whatever the cost, right?


Obviously, Ander Herrera is crucial to Manchester United as currently constituted. There is no way the midfield functions as smoothly without his ability to read opponents, regain possession and move it on in a tidy fashion. But here’s the thing: as currently constituted, Manchester United’s midfield is a bit of a joke. A running gag, if you will.

Sure, Paul Pogba is majestic, but right now the midfield lives or dies on his ability. That’s why United have had such success playing hard and fast in transition; all it requires of the other two midfielders is to defend with gusto and move the ball simply to Pogba or the forwards, which is right in Herrera’s wheelhouse. They don’t have to control a game while passing with perception and defending vast amounts of space.

The thing is, when confronted with a superior midfielder from a better-organised side, or simply a well-drilled defence, United’s midfield looks amateurish. It fails to take hold of the game and leaves the forwards starved of service. It’s not that Ander is solely to blame, Nemanja Matic is a far worse offender, but he’s definitely at fault here.

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Recall PSG at home in the Champions League when Pogba was marked out of the game and the other midfielders failed to step up and contribute. They devoted one entire person to stopping Pogba, which left Herrera and Matic 2vs1 against Marco Verratti, and yet the Italian gave them the run-around. It was quite telling that in Herrera’s absence in the second leg in Paris, Fred gave Verratti a good battle and didn’t just get steamrollered as Herrera had been.

One needn’t dwell solely on PSG, either. After a spell out injured, Herrera returned to midfield against Wolves and did… nothing. Again United’s plan was just “give it Paul and pray!” so when Pogba was stifled by Wolves’ blanket defending, Herrera utterly failed to step up and help when he should have been the one to take command of the game. He should have that ability.

But he doesn’t.

He’s absolutely lovely, but he’s not world-class. He’s barely even great. He’s good. He’s occasionally very good. He always works hard and is a decent defensive player with and without the ball. But that’s his level, and if Manchester United are content with being a Europa League side, then there’s no problem. Pay Herrera whatever he wants, give him the captain’s armband and bathe in all the goodwill from the fans. But you won’t get better. The side won’t get better.

Not that he should be allowed to walk, either. A player like Herrera has 1,000 uses in a squad as ambitious as Manchester United’s. He’s the kind of depth that title wins are built on. But United need to play hardball, they need to ensure that he renews for a reasonable price and then they need to go out and get a proper creative central midfielder to replace him in the first XI (or, y’know, just play Fred).

It’s hard to be critical of a player that’s so popular, but being a nice person and being a great footballer don’t go hand-in-hand. While in an ideal world, United would be able to pay Herrera whatever he wants to keep on being Herrera, the reality is that he’s not good enough to justify such blind faith, and a side with as many issues as Manchester United cannot simply give in to a player just because he’s nice. They need to be better than that, and they need a midfielder that’s better than Ander Herrera.