“One actually believes him when he says he knows what it means to play for Manchester United” – Sid Lowe on Ander Herrera
Ahead of his debut for the Spanish national team, Ander Herrera sat down with The Guardian’s Spanish football correspondent and gave perhaps his most impressive interview to date. They talked Spain, United, Mourinho, Rooney and Zlatan, and so much more. Herrera admits to being ‘football mad’ and the way he speaks about his club, his manager and the players around him, United fans should be excited about the future with this man in the team.
For Herrera, that future must start right now. At 27, the former European Under-21 champion is entering the prime of his career with just one senior medal to show for his efforts so far. Never one to back down from a fight or avoid hard-work, Herrera has forced his way into Jose Mourinho’s plans this season, after being little more than a bit-part player under Louis van Gaal.
“I’m here because Mourinho’s given me the chance to take a new role.
“It’s more defensive: hold my position, don’t lose the ball, win it, bring it out fluidly, that ‘rest defence’. I’m enjoying it. I’m there for others.”
When he speaks about football, he prompts you to listen. Herrera speaks passionately and intelligently about the game he loves. He understands the responsibility of being at a club like Manchester United; he revels in it.
He’s also quick to praise Mourinho. Herrera does not subscribe to the theory that United’s new manager is a negative coach and is enthusiastic about the work he’s doing with the players this season.
“There’s an idea of Mourinho that’s flawed. In many games we’ve had more possession. Liverpool had more but otherwise we’ve had more of the ball and more chances. Liverpool have been scoring loads: to limit them to two shots, both from distance, is a success. And with Ibra’s chance we could have won 1-0. To go to Anfield, the form they’re in, and stop them deserves praise. Some games you have to shut the door because they’re ‘on fire’. Other days like Burnley, Stoke, Swansea, it’s you who has to attack.
“Even against Chelsea possession was ours until the last 10, 15 minutes. OK, we deserved to lose but not 4-0. We had chances for 4-2 or 4-3. Mourinho’s an attacking coach; what he’s not is a kamikaze: he doesn’t have us playing like mad men. He likes the ‘rest defence’ but he’s an attacking coach who gives players freedom. He’s also honest, sincere, says what he thinks to your face. If a coach isn’t honest, players rumble him. There’s a very good relationship. Mourinho’s very straight.”
Ander Herrera’s positivity is infectious – the fans can feel it. He has an open and honest view of the game and is always focused on moving forward. He declined the opportunity to speak about Louis van Gaal, instead directing the conversation back to the new man in charge. This season, this moment, how United are working now.
“I prefer to talk about the present. The team’s fine, enjoying the work, training well. I like Mourinho’s sessions: very dynamic, always with the ball. There are no really long sessions or talks. He understands what a footballer needs: twenty minutes, that’s it. No time to lose concentration. We’re still there, and we should have five points more.”
In his short time at the club, Herrera has drawn admiration and adoration from fans across the world because he has connected with the club. You can see it radiate through him, particularly when he scores. The joy is irrepressible. Think back to Yeovil away in the FA Cup in his first year, or last season when he scored against Liverpool and Arsenal at Old Trafford.
But Herrera hurts just as much when things don’t go the right way, and he’s been hurting this year already.
“We deserved to beat Stoke and Burnley. That was unbelievable. 37 shots, they have one and… Incredible, incredible. I spoke to Juan [Mata] and we’d never known anything like it. That happens once a season, but it’s already happened twice. The ball hits the post and goes wide; soon it will hit the post and go in.”
While he discusses so many of his current teammates, at both club and international level, it is Herrera’s comments about Paul Pogba which illustrate how he and the squad are thinking under Mourinho.
“Paul’s an offensive player; he needs freedom and the team needs him to have that. He can score 10 a season. With his strength, the way he hits the ball with both feet, his ability in the air, you have to make the most of that.”
Herrera has played alongside Pogba as an impressive midfield duo. He’s played behind Pogba when the Frenchman has been asked to play as a no.10 and he’s watched Pogba as he’s been deployed on the left of a midfield three. No matter the role, Herrera is thinking forwards, not back.
That is why Mourinho can count on him.
That is why Manchester United are lucky to have him.
When Ander Herrera speaks about football, it should reignite a passion within everyone that loves the game. When he talks about tactics, he talks about possession, goals, winning matches and attacking football. He talks of Pogba’s attacking qualities, not his defensive skill. He talks about hard work and enjoying the moment and seizing every opportunity that comes his way. He embodies everything that a modern-day footballer should be, and he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves.