Manchester United needs to rethink their negotiation tactics on contract extensions

Ander Herrera’s potential exit from Manchester Unitedhas raised questions to the tactics used by the club when it comes to extending the contracts of current players. Herrera Is out of contract in the summer, and according to the rumours has agreed to a move in the summer to Paris Saint-Germain.

The controversy has surrounded the fact that with the Spanish midfielder being so close to the end of his contract, he hasn’t even been offered a new one by United, and how has the potential to leave without any transfer fee paid by PSG.

This isn’t the first occurrence of this happening to players who would seemingly be obvious choices to secure with contract extensions. David De Gea is also down to the bone of his contract, with the club only having one season left on his contract after activating the option to keep the goalkeeper one more year.

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De Gea has also been a victim to this game before, as it took some time for his last contract to come to fruition back in 2015, and was on the last season of his previous contract at the time of the extension. Anthony Martial also had to put up with a bit of a wait of receiving a contract offer recently, as his previous contract was due to expire at the end of next season.

While United have been seemingly more efficient on Martial’s contract than those of De Gea and Herrera, the leverage was still getting close to being on Martial’s side, as it seems a player has a better chance of getting better wages if the club can obtain them on a free transfer. 

Mix this with the fact that Alexis Sanchez is making around £350,000 a week. This type of strategy is the worst possible one when it comes to putting the players in the leveraging positions, and causing the club to have to pay out a lot more than players would probably be worth realistically.

Players such as Herrera and De Gea would be statistically justified in requesting a salary that is similar to the pay scale that Sanchez is on, and because of this, they are now being wooed with interesting offers from other clubs, that are on that scale. 

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If United want to keep their player’s long term, they will have to end the procrastination when it comes to offering contract extensions to their players. With players being allowed to negotiate pre-contract agreements, players can gain a lot of leverage towards the last year of a contract. 

With United already potentially offloading a few of the ageing and underperforming players this summer, the last thing that the club needs is to lose players that are important to the club, and play a big role within the squad, especially in Herrera’s case, who was a trending potential favourite for the clubs captaincy.

Players like that are the last ones that should be leaving the club, and if Herrera does end up leaving, the calls for changes to the business side of United will only get louder, and the only thing that may fix that mistake in the eyes of fans would probably be a Director of Football being appointed to the club.

Written by Joel Dulka

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopeful that the injury crisis will start to end this week

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes to have at least three more players available as United get ready to face Wolverhampton Wanderers in the quarter-finals of the Emirates FA Cup on Saturday evening. For the past few weeks, United have had up to ten players on the sidelines through illness and injury.

Currently, United has Antonio Valencia (muscle), Matteo Darmian (knock), Alexis Sanchez (MCL), Phil Jones (illness), Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, and Jesse Lingard (all hamstring) on the sidelines. Anthony Martial and Nemanja Matic both made their returns from injury against Arsenal and Marcos Rojo has been on the bench for a number of recent matches.

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Solskjaer spoke about injuries during his post-match press conference after United’s 2-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates. The Norwegian caretaker manager spoke about the number of injuries he has been dealing with, which also gave opportunities to the likes of Tahith Chong, James Garner and more recently, Mason Greenwood. Solskjaer said:

“No, we don’t have to choose. Because with the injuries we’ve had lately, that’s given us a great chance to give players game time. And they are coming back, maybe for Wolves.

“But after the international break we’ll have a full squad fit and the ones who’ve come in when the regulars have been injured have done really well. We’ll be ready for that.”

On Friday, it was revealed that Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera all took part in the training session, which in itself, suggested that the trio have recovered from their hamstring injuries, which would further boost Solskjaer’s squad for the visit to the Molineux, which is certain to be a tough match for United based on the current Wolves form.

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Solskjaer will be certain to give an update on the state of his squad during his pre-match press conference, which according to the schedule of MUTV, will be broadcast live on the channel from 09:00 GMT on Friday. Whether the likes of Lingard, Herrera, and Mata have endured enough training to be involved in this important match, will be seen then.

It will give the trio four days of training, as presumably, they will have had some involvement in training on Monday, even if the players involved in the Arsenal match on Sunday did not train, also giving them the sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday ahead of the press conference, plus Friday’s session. Perhaps they could be on the bench?

February Review: Ander Herrera, Victor Lindelof and Paul Pogba have all done well in February for Manchester United

Manchester United played six matches in the Premier League, UEFA Champions League and the Emirates FA Cup in February, winning four and drawing once and losing once. United scored nine goals, conceded three goals, kept four clean sheets, won 10 Premier League points and won one FA Cup match, earning a place in the quarter-finals and lost a Champions League match. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has started his reign at the club in fine fettle despite losing one game in 15 (so far).

United have continued their improvement under Solskjaer from the way they played under Jose Mourinho. The players are still happy, the coaches are still happy and the supporters are massively happy. March is a much tougher month for United but victories over Leicester City (1-0), Fulham (3-0), Chelsea (2-0), and Crystal Palace (3-1), followed by a defeat to Paris Saint-Germain (2-0) and a draw against Liverpool (0-0) has given the squad a good platform to head into what will be the difficult month of March.

During February, United had six different goal scorers and six players with assists; Paul Pogba scored three goals, Romelu Lukaku scored two and Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera and Ashley Young all scored once. In terms of assists, Pogba got three, Martial, Rashford, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof got one each. David De Gea kept three clean sheets and Sergio Romero kept one.

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Ander Herrera – five appearances, 376 minutes played, one goal

Ander Herrera would have played in all six matches in February if it was not for the hamstring injury he sustained in the 0-0 draw against Liverpool. The Spanish midfielder played in the victories over Leicester City, Fulham, Chelsea, the defeat to PSG and the draw with Liverpool, playing 376 minutes of football. Herrera scored once during the month, opening the scoring at Stamford Bridge as United beat Chelsea in the Emirates FA Cup.

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Paul Pogba – six appearances, 523 minutes played, three goals, three assists, two MOTMs

Paul Pogba is the only nominated player to feature in all six matches United played in February. The Frenchman continued his good form under Solskjaer, playing 523 minutes of football grabbing an assist against Leicester City,  scoring twice against Fulham, getting a goal and an assist against Chelsea, grabbing another assist against Crystal Palace. Pogba was named as the MOTM for his performances against Fulham and Chelsea. He was sent off against PSG, missing the next leg of the match, which will be a blow for United.

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Victor Lindelof – five appearances, 450 minutes played, one assist

Victor Lindelof has continued his great form this season. He featured in five of the six matches, played 450 minutes of football, featuring in the victories over Leicester City, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, the draw against Liverpool and the defeat to PSG. The Swedish international seems to be at his best when partnering Chris Smalling, who returned from injury in February. Lindelof got an assist against Palace which will end a good month for both the player and the club.

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Notable Mentions: David De Gea, Sergio Romero, Chris Smalling, Ashley Young and James Garner

United had a good month in February, winning four of the six matches played, drawing once and losing once. Solskjaer may have lost his unbeaten run but of the 15 matches he has now managed, just one defeat is a good sign. David De Gea has kept three clean sheets in February with Sergio Romero keeping one. Chris Smalling has had a good month, as has Ashley Young, who got himself a goal against Palace. February might be remembered for the injury crisis which saw 17-year-old James Garner make his full debut.

Who is your Player of the Month for February 2019?

A look at what lies ahead in March

In March, United will play five matches, somewhat shorter than both January and February but there is an international break. United start at home against Southampton (2/3). From there, they will return to UEFA Champions League action against PSG (6/3) in France. United then travel to Arsenal (10/3) then to Wolverhampton Wanderers (16/3), the third away in a row, this time in the Emirates FA Cup. After the international break, United end the month at home against Watford (30/3).

Should David De Gea, Ander Herrera and Andreas Pereira have their contracts renewed and was the Phil Jones renewal the right thing?

Welcome to the second part where I discuss the contract expirations occurring in June 2019 and whether or not I believe they should be renewed or let go. In the few days since one of the players I was going to talk about has had his contract renewed, with Phil Jones being given a four-year extension with a one year option, so I will briefly discuss whether or not his renewal was a good or bad thing and why.

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David De Gea

Up first is none other than the best goalkeeper in the world who despite his rocky start to his Manchester United career has blossomed into an incredible shot stopper and one who could save a word file on a piece of toast.

There is one weak part of his game though and that is his distribution, which at times is borderline woeful. When compared with the goalkeepers in the rest of the top 6 De Gea is easily the worst at distribution than all of them. The stats for pass completion percentage are as follows:

  • De Gea – 59.2% with 25.6 passes
  • Alisson – 79% with 28.2 passes
  • Kepa – 86.9% with 28.6 passes
  • Ederson – 83.2% with 25.6 passes and one assist
  • Lloris – 74.2% with 32.3 passes
  • Leno – 70.9% with 30.8 passes

As you can see from the above De Gea is far behind the others in terms of distribution. That’s not to say it’s a skill he particularly needs but when a poor pass from your keeper leads to you being on the back foot when prepared to attack it’s not a good thing and it baffles my mind as to why the coaches at United haven’t worked on improving his game.

Now before you get the pitchforks out and prepare to lynch me I did say De Gea is the best goalkeeper in the world and this has been shown time and time again with his superior shot-stopping ability that has saved United time and time and time again. And let’s be honest, I could easily add another hundred times onto that and it still wouldn’t be anywhere near enough times. The man has been absolutely prolific in his time at the club and if there is one player who deserves to compete for top honours year in year out then it is him.

Thankfully he was very poor for Spain in the World Cup leading Real Madrid to look elsewhere and he has stayed with Manchester United.

Now out of all eight players I will mention across both articles De Gea is the one who, without a shadow of a doubt, should be offered heaven and earth in order to get him to sign a new contract as without him there would have been a lot more goals conceded and the team would be in much worse shape.

Historically speaking the goalkeeping position has been United’s strength, aside from a few years but it’s best to forget the B’s were ever at the club to be honest. If Manchester United fail to get De Gea to sign a new contract then it will be one of their biggest ever failings in terms of squad management, and I mean upper management because the contract renewal is squarely on the higher-ups.

Final verdict: Give him everything he wants and get a new contract signed ASAP

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Ander Herrera

Ander Herrera, an absolute fan-favourite, from absolute shithousery on the pitch to spitting on the badge of Manchester City the man has a massive fan following and is a huge fan of the club. If you were to ask him where he’d like to spend the rest of his career and his life afterwards he would probably tell you that he wants to stay with the team forever, he has a passion for the team that few players seem to have and that all should look up to.

Herrera is a player that many fans would like to be given the captain’s armband because when he plays for the team he gives it his absolute all and will run around the earth to man-mark whoever he has been asked to. He might not be the greatest of players but he is one that should be a squad option at the very least. He might not be a regular starter for the team again but he can come off the bench and have an impact.

With his contract running out in June there is one minor issue facing his contract renewal, he turns 30 in August and depending on when the 2019/20 season starts he may very well be 30 before it begins. This begs the question as to what contract he should be offered as players 30 and over are typically offered a 12-month contract year after year rather than anything long-term. With him still being 29 when he needs to be offered a new one if the club does, will they offer a 24-month one or try to be sneaky with a 12-month contract? Realistically he should be offered a 24-month contract due to this but Ed Woodward is also a master of shithousery so you never know with him.

In my opinion, Herrera should definitely have his contract renewed, especially with Juan Mata slowing down and Marouane Fellaini being sold.

Final verdict: Renew for 24 months

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Andreas Pereira

Now if you read one of my previous articles I spoke about giving players time to adapt to the Premier League and given a chance to show their abilities instead of being shuffled off after one bad performance. Pereira was the main subject of that article so you will know my opinion on him already.

Unlike other players, whose contracts have a one year option that the club can activate, Pereira has a one year option that he also needs to agree to. Unfortunately for some Manchester United fans Pereira hasn’t really been given too much of a chance this season and being given more game time was one of the reasons he was willing to stay in Manchester and not be loaned out again.

It would be a real shame if he was to leave without being given a chance as I do believe he can offer something to the club and if Fred doesn’t work out, as it is looking, then Pereira can be a good squad option, one to come off the bench and run at teams when they’re tired. The problem is that whilst it’s easy to promise minutes to young players and hope they improve and show enough when given those minutes, it isn’t so easy to actually give them the minutes, especially when there are other players in the team who have done more and shown more.

Currently, Pereira is behind in the pecking order and when it comes to other players who don’t start regularly it’s hard not to see Mata, Herrera and Fred all ahead of him. And if you look at the bench for the game against Fulham on February 9th McTominay had a place but Pereira didn’t, so Scott McTominay might also be ahead of him in the pecking order.

Although I do believe Pereira should be offered a new contract it should be shorter than usual in order to give him time to see if he adjusts and will be good enough for the team in the future.

Final verdict: Renew for two or three years

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Phil Jones

As I stated at the beginning Phil Jones signed a contract renewal between my publishing of part one and part two and my original intent was to say whether he should be renewed or not. Instead, I will say whether it was a good idea.

The simple answer here is yes, although from perusing twitter you would be shocked to know there are a lot of Manchester United fans very unhappy with the decision due to him never hitting the heights everyone thought he would, as well as his injury record and often poor defensive work.

However, Phil Jones is a very good defender and on his day is very reliable and solid at the back. The problem lies in how often his day occurs and that isn’t often enough and he, as well as Smalling, always seems to have at least one mistake in him, as well as scoring own goals. The only thing fans would probably miss if he were to leave are the faces he pulls which often make for hilarious viewing and there are enough that he is his own personal meme at this point.

There is one very important reason that his contract was renewed and that is resale value. Phil Jones is currently 26 years old, soon to be 27, and has a few years left in football, and enough that should the club hope to get any money for him they would need to give him a long enough contract that he couldn’t be taken on a free. As well as Ed Woodward likely not wanting to spend too much money on defenders him offering Phil Jones a renewal was almost a certainty.

Hell, he even got himself an assist in the 3-0 win against Fulham on February 9th and a clean sheet, a day or two after his renewal, so maybe his renewal is the kick-start that he needs in order to become the top defender everybody hoped he would.

If I had written this before his renewal then my answer would have still been the same due to the reasons stated above.

Final Verdict: Renew (this has been done)

So there you have it, the final four whose contracts are and were expiring in June 2019.

Written by Craig Holland-Greenfield

Ander Herrera sees Manchester United momentum as more important than a potential new contract

Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera is out of contract this summer and despite having the one-year option activated a year ago, there are not yet any further developments as to whether the player will continue playing for the Old Trafford club. Herrera has been a good player to have over the past five years and could well have arrived under the management of David Moyes if it was not for the three stooges.

When you cast your minds back to the day United signed Herrera, no permanent manager was installed at the club and both Herrera and Luke Shaw, who arrived on the same day, were greeted by Sir Bobby Charlton. Louis van Gaal was to become the manager as soon as the Netherlands were out of the FIFA World Cup in 2014, which was held in Brazil. On his signing being announced, Herrera said:

“Signing for Manchester United is a dream come true. I have joined United to do all I can to help the team reach the club’s objectives. Having arrived on Tuesday, I’m excited to now be living in Manchester and I can’t wait for my first game in United’s famous red shirt.”

During his stay at United, Herrera has had some impressive performances; the one against Chelsea where he man-marked Eden Hazard was one of the most memorable as Herrera played the game like he was stalking Hazard and actually kept him out of the match – United won 2-0. Herrera has been lauded as captain-material by the club’s supporters, which is still something that can be heard today if you look in the right places.

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Despite the fact that the current season is starting to come to an end, with just three fill months of Premier League action, which will also incorporate the Emirates FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League, Herrera does not seem too worried about his future at the Theatre of Dreams. That does not suggest that he is happy to leave the club, or that he knows he will be departing Manchester after five years at the club. The player seems committed to the cause of ending this season on a high.

Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who replaced Jose Mourinho in December after the Portuguese manager was sacked, Herrera has been one of the players who has reacted positively and commenced working hard, which has been shown in his performances. The player seems adamant that he wants to commit his energy to play for the club he clearly loves, working to end the season with some sort of glory, which did not seem to be on the cards under Mourinho.

United have won the last eight matches in all competitions under Solskjaer and will enter the fray at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening against Burnley, seeking to make it nine out of nine in all competitions. Despite the fact that the matches United have played have been easier, although that could be argued based on the form and attitude of the team under Mourinho, they have beaten two top six teams in Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.

Herrera has been able to stand up and be counted under Solskjaer and has risen in form and stature in the recent matches he has played in, which has been shown the Spaniard and Nemanja Matic partnering well in midfield, allowing Paul Pogba to play a free role in midfield, albeit further forward, which has led to him scoring five goals and five assists. It has been speculated that Herrera’s future lies away from Old Trafford, which might be a crying shame, based on what he brings to the team right now.

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Speaking after a 3-1 victory over Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup, Herrera spoke about his future, suggesting that he was more committed to fighting to get United into the top four, earning a UEFA Champions League place and possibly helping the team win a trophy this season, which could still be on the table. The fact he’s not willing to talk about a new contract shows you what Herrera is made of and how he makes himself tick. The Spaniard said:

“I’m not going to talk about my contract. We have more important things happening now than my contract so I just try to perform. My priority is to beat Burnley, Leicester. If I deserve a new contract, the contract will come. I’m not a selfish guy, I want the team to keep winning games, I don’t go crazy about my contract.”

Herrera also gave some insight into how Solskjaer gave this team the confidence they needed to perform, something that was so obviously lacking under Mourinho, although not a criticism to Herrera, his teammates or Mourinho himself. When United have played in the last eight matches, it is clear to say that they have been given the freedom to get forward and attack their opposition, which is what they were not doing under Mourinho. Herrera said:

“Ole brought that to the team from the first day. He said we want to be a team that controls the game, but sometimes that’s impossible. Sometimes we have to defend, but we know when we are defending that anything can happen in attack for us. We have quick forward players who are able to make runs to be in box.

“Paul [Pogba] makes those runs, Ash [Young] and Luke [Shaw] too; everyone is allowed to go and attack, so of course when we are playing we think that anything is possible. Even in the tough moments, we have the feeling that we can hurt our opponent.

“We shouldn’t go crazy with the table. There are still a lot of matches to play in the league so we go game by game. Every game gives you a new challenge, and new problems to solve. Our feeling is that if we perform at our best, we can beat anyone. It doesn’t mean we’re going to beat every team, but we have the belief because we have the quality to do it.”

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United obviously have a big summer ahead of them. Ed Woodward is seeking a Director of Football, which will make the boardroom stronger with competent football leadership and also a direction for the club to head into. Of late, the same things seem to be happening, which will eventually lead the team down the same path again, just under different leadership. United have a lot of deadwood at the club, that they need to get rid of. It is yet to be seen whether Herrera is seen as deadwood or a player to keep.

Personally, I feel Herrera will offer some experience going forward. He still has the ability to get involved in matches and the confidence to do so. Letting him leave the club on a free could be seen as a mistake, especially in the fact that reports suggest that Juan Mata has been offered a new one-year contract, based on the fact that he is over 30, which could be the case with Herrera too, although he will not turn 30 until the 14 August 2019, when the new Premier League season would have already started.

During his time at United, Herrera has played a total of 180 times, starting 132 matches and coming off the bench in 48, including the 3-1 victory over Arsenal on Friday evening. Herrera has scored 19 goals for the club, the most recent in the 5-1 victory over Cardiff City, which was Solskjaer’s first match as caretaker manager. For the past three seasons, including the current one, Herrera has netted twice each season, scoring five times in his second season at the club and seven in his first season.

Having Herrera at the club as it looks to launch into a new era would be wise and bring stability to the midfield. United might well have many midfielders heading into the new season, so Herrera may not be needed but with the likes of Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira and Fred lacking experience, having players to help them develop would be necessary. United need to learn that having experienced players to help the younger players is necessary and without them, younger players may find it very tough.

Anthony Martial can be one of the best players in the world, this is what he needs to focus on becoming…

Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera has stated that he feels teammate Anthony Martial can become ‘one of the best players in the world’. During the past season, the Frenchman did not have the best time under manager Jose Mourinho which led to him being benched more often than not and when given a chance to show his abilities, he rarely did so. Many blame his poor performances on the arrival of Alexis Sanchez which, all said and done, should bring the best out of any player but it did not do that with Martial, who ended up not being part of France squad which won the FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Martial’s agent, Philippe Lamboley has previously stated that the player wants to leave the Old Trafford club this summer, however, United do not seem all that keen on selling the player. A month or so ago, many journalists would have you believe that Martial was going to sign for Juventus this summer but the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo seems to have suggested the Italian giants were not interested in the Frenchman and with the lack of professionalism shown by the player last season, why would they be?

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United signed Martial from AS Monaco on deadline day in the summer of 2015 and at the time, journalists, pundits, and other ABUs mocked United for spending £36 million on the relatively unknown Frenchman. Immediately, because United had spent what seemed like a lot of money on a teenager, it would always be a waste of money. After the international break, Martial made his debut at Old Trafford against Liverpool in the Premier League, scoring and announcing himself in the world of football. Of course, journalists referred to the total amount that could be spent on the player – £56 million, not the £36 million spent.

Martial has cost United around £8 million since signing, making the total outlay so far to about £44 million or thereabouts. He is now into the last year of his contract, although United have the option of adding another year to his current deal, therefore keeping him at the Theatre of Dreams until the summer of 2020. There seems little interest in selling the player, where Ed Woodward is concerned with reports suggesting that he could be a star in the making, therefore could be a regret if United ever sold him.

Last season, Martial started in good form, scoring five goals in the first eight matches of the season, in all competitions. Martial scored six more goals before the end of January, which was all for the season. Many will say he was in frightening form before Sanchez arrived, which is partly true but there were long spells of nothing from the Frenchman, which is something which is easy to forget for those with an agenda. Sanchez was brought in to strengthen Martial’s position and possibly to buck up his ideas, which have so far not worked. Herrera, speaking about Martial and his potential so far this summer, said:

“He’s very talented. He can be one of the best players in the world and I think he is very focused this season to smash it.

“When you have players like Anthony, like Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Alexis Sanchez, those kind of players that can change the game.”

“If one of them cannot play, we have three or four more so we have lots of options. I think we shouldn’t think that any other club in the Premier League has better players because at least we have as good as the opponents.

“Now it’s all about work, confidence, about keep playing like he did today. I am confident with them because they are all amazing players and Anthony looks very sharp.”

Martial has a big season ahead of him, whether that is at United or elsewhere. He will need to find the professionalism which will help him succeed as a top player. If he takes offence at other players coming in to add competition in a squad, nothing is ever going to head in the direction he wants. The grass is never always greener on the other side and the lack of fight may prove him to be a weak link for any club he plays for if he continues in the direction he is going, which is sure to turn him into Nicolas Anelka 2.0.

Martial is a class player and has the world at his feet. Most of the fans who support him seem to give him too many excuses for poor performances. The one thing the last season has suggested is that he may not have what it takes to succeed at the club. I’m sick of seeing all these players who need cuddles rather than being told they need to work harder and sulking on the sidelines. Also, players who need to have everything their way is something that should not be present in the game. Life is never like that so why should it be manufactured for them?

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If he remains at United, of course, he will have my support and I am sure every United supporter will be behind him. Mourinho suggested at the end of the season that if he remained a United player, he would play more football in a central role with Mourinho seeking to take some pressure off Romelu Lukaku. Martial started as the striker against Club America in the club’s first pre-season match of the summer and could remain in the role for tonight’s match against San Jose Earthquakes, which will commence at 22:00 BST in the United Kingdom.

I would like to see Martial brush off what he went through last season, possibly look at the support he was given in Mourinho’s first season at the club at a time whereby he was going through some personal issues. Support is give-and-take, but so far, Martial has given very little. If he sorts out his attitude and realises that if he digs deep, knuckles down and performs to his own abilities, which on his day are immensely high, the world could be his oyster. His pace, vision and the ability to score goals galore will be something that propels him to the top of his game.

I hope he takes his chances and proves that he is the player United want and need. This coming season, if he remains at United, this is the minimum that he needs to do. Kick back all the criticism, cast it all out of his mind and have one goal – becoming the best player in the world. It will cost United more money but if that happens, it is because he has what it takes to succeed and is doing just that. United and more importantly, the supporters of the club would embrace that. We all want Martial to succeed but the overpraise he has received is just not due – not yet anyway.

Written by Dave Preston

Ander Herrera wanted by Athletic Bilbao this summer with the intention to make him the club’s highest earner

Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera is a reported target for former club Athletic Bilbao this summer. The Spanish club would reportedly ‘break the bank’ to make Herrera their highest paid player if he was to return to San Mamés this summer. Herrera, 28, will no doubt be affected by the arrival of Fred this summer, whose transfer still has not been announced by the Old Trafford club, despite confirming that there is an agreement in place for the player to leave Shakhtar Donetsk this summer.

The report, coming from AS in Spain and carried by The Sun in the United Kingdom, suggest the United Player of the Year from the 2016/17 season would be offered a lot of money to return to his former club, which he left in the summer of 2014, a year after his transfer was seemingly messed up by three solicitors reported to represent United during the failure of a transfer window under former manager David Moyes, which saw only Marouane Fellaini join the club with world-class stars touted.

Herrera played a lot of football during Jose Mourinho’s first season at the club, despite Paul Pogba making an £89 million return to the Theatre of Dreams. The following season, the arrival of Nemanja Matic saw Herrera play fewer matches but towards the end of the season, he was playing alongside both Pogba and Matic in a midfield three. This summer, Fred’s arrival could see Herrera resigned to the bench, playing the role of a bit-part player, which could influence a decision to move on from United.

Herrera saw a 12-month clause in his contract activated this summer, which has been confirmed by the Premier League’s released and retained list, although we already knew this clause was being activated. This will see that United retain the player for another season based on the terms inserted into the contract he signed in the summer of 2014 when he arrived at the Theatre of Dreams along with Luke Shaw, who has also had his contract extended in the same way.

Mourinho has seen Michael Carrick retire from the game, taking a place on his coaching team for the forthcoming season. Also, Marouane Fellaini, who is out of contract at the end of the month, is expected to leave the club, which will mean Mourinho will need to bring in another midfielder, with Sergej Milinkovic-Savic still linked to the Old Trafford club. Herrera’s playing time could take another hit in the same summer is a high-profile name is brought in to replace Fellaini.

Mourinho may not want to see another midfielder leave the club this summer, but if he is to be replaced next summer anyway, as if United were interested in renewing Herrera’s contract, they would have done so this summer, or at leave have plans to do so, which does not seem to be the case. Receiving a transfer fee, however small or large for Herrera would be better than seeing him leave the club on a free in a year’s time. If that was to happen, and Herrera did return to Spain this summer it could see some youth being given an opportunity.

Scott McTominay was blooded into the squad last season after making his debut in Mourinho’s first season as manager. Also, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who spent the season on loan with Crystal Palace as a right-back, seemingly placed on the shelf in that position at the club with Diogo Dalot signing in the past week, but his ability that sees him play in different positions could strengthen with him able to play as a central defender or even in a midfield role.

Ander Hererra: Our favourite Pantomime Villain

Ander Herrera has developed an unfavourable reputation amongst fans of other Premier League clubs, perhaps justifiably. However, he remains pivotal to this Manchester United side.

“I find Ander Herrera the most irritating player in the Premier League.”

These were the words written by Garth Crooks following Manchester United’s FA Cup semi-final victory over Tottenham Hotspur, in which Herrera scoring the winning goal. His words are part of a wider rhetoric which has been associated with the Spanish midfielder for some time. Arguably he has replaced Diego Costa as the villain of the Premier League, for which he is vehemently disliked by fans of other teams.

What has Herrera done to warrant this? In some sense it is justified; he is more than willing to take a yellow card for a ‘professional’ foul and will certainly make sure it’s known to the officials when he’s been fouled. Though Manchester City chose not to open proceedings against Herrera, another example saw him being accused of spitting on the City badge as he walked off the pitch at the Etihad Stadium following the victory in the derby.

Whilst he is far from short of technical ability, his willingness to do the dirty tasks sets him apart from many Spanish midfielders who’ve made the transition from La Liga. In short, Herrera does the ugly tasks well. His ability to do so stems from a burning desire to win for the club he has called the biggest in England on countless occasions. He will do whatever is necessary to win, even if that means acquiring a less than favourable reputation with other supporters.

This is what makes Herrera so pivotal to this United side. He understands what it means to play for a club like United and his passion is clear to see. In the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, United have been criticised for lacking the type of leaders who used to epitomise his sides, the likes of Roy Keane, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, and Nemanja Vidic to name but a few. But in the shape of Herrera, Jose Mourinho has a natural leader who can ensure the players know how much it means to play for United.

The Spaniard has had a mixed season following his outstanding previous campaign, but he is hitting form at just the right time. Mourinho may well look to strengthen in midfield this summer, but it is vital that Herrera remains in and around the squad even if he is not playing ninety minutes week in week out. The only potential hurdle is that he only has a year remaining on his contract and is reportedly wanted by his former club, Athletic Bilbao. Consequently, a new contract for Herrera should be made a strong priority by Mourinho and Ed Woodward.

With the retirement of Michael Carrick imminent, Herrera needs to continue to show not only his footballing ability but why many have cited him as a potential replacement for Carrick as club captain. This involves not only displaying his passion for the club but also aiding the development of the likes of Scott McTominay, who has flourished under Mourinho’s tutelage thus far. He may also have a key role to play in ensuring United keep hold of talented Brazilian playmaker, Andreas Pereira, who will be hoping to play regularly next season following two season-long loans in Spain.

If Herrera can guide Pereira, United will boast a very strong central midfield for seasons to come, with Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic being the other likely starters in a potential midfield three. On the surface, this bodes well for United’s prospects and doesn’t even account for the relatively strong likelihood Mourinho will invest in the position. At times this season United have looked lost on the pitch, a team of fantastic individuals struggling to gel.

However, with Ander Herrera in the squad and continually developing the attributes of a true leader, the types of performances seen against Manchester City, as United reversed a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2, will only become more frequent.

Written by Rob Potter

Ander Herrera’s emergence unlocks big game formula for Manchester United

Ander Herrera was a key player for Jose Mourinho in his first year as manager at Manchester United. The Spaniard was voted the club’s Player of the Year last season for his outstanding performances which helped United capture both the League Cup and Europa League. With the addition of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea last summer, expectations were high that Herrera, Matic, and Paul Pogba would form a formidable and balanced midfield trio.

Things don’t always go according to plan though.

Herrera struggled for fitness much of the season and even when fit hasn’t quite reached last year’s heights. As a result, Mourinho has had to spend much of the season searching for midfield combinations which could establish defensive solidity, retain possession and provide a platform for the club’s flair players to thrive.

That search proved extremely difficult to navigate.

The Pogba and Matic pairing got off to a great start and had some spectacular moments, but often left the defense exposed. In United’s 3-1 victory over Arsenal at the Emirates, David De Gea was forced to make 15 saves as the duo were overrun in midfield.

The most chastening experience though was the hiding they were handed by Tottenham on their visit to Wembley in January. The 2-0 scoreline didn’t do justice to Spurs’ utter domination of proceedings. United were second best all over the pitch but were outclassed and outworked nowhere more noticeable than in midfield.

Moussa Dembele put in a stunning performance, gliding around and through United’s lines at will. Even when Pogba and Matic got on the ball they were swarmed with their only option often a pass backwards.

It was a dour performance which truly exposed the midfield partnership’s lack of mobility and defensive discipline against top quality sides. Luckily for Mourinho, Herrera’s return to form in time for the stretch run littered with “big matches” at the end of the season has come at precisely the right time.

His reintroduction into the side in these games has given United more balanced in the middle of the pitch. Mourinho will always take a more cautious approach in these situations. In the absence of his preferred midfield trio Mourinho has preferred to simply defend deep and look to nick a goal on the counter, but with Herrera providing more balance and solidity in midfield United have been more willing to commit numbers forward in attack.

In the Manchester derby two weeks ago it was Herrera’s lovely cushioned chest down in the box which Pogba dutifully tucked away which ignited United’s comeback from 2-0 down against Manchester City. Then, of course, in yesterday’s FA Cup Semi-Final against the same Tottenham side which so brushed aside United with ease a little less than 3 months ago,

Herrera scored the winner after running onto Sanchez’s deflected square ball across the edge of the box.

His impact goes beyond ghosting into the box to score or set others up though. He’s the ultimate “Mourinho player” for his defensive commitment and work. It’s those qualities which have provided the balance in midfield that Mourinho has been searching for all year in his absence.

His willingness and ability to get stuck in are a necessary component for any team, especially in the middle of the pitch where matches against top quality opposition are often decided.

Herrera’s discipline in providing extra cover alongside Matic has benefited Pogba most of all. The Frenchman has struggled at times this season to find the balance between sticking to his defensive and tactical duties and unleashing his talents in getting forward. With Herrera in the side Pogba has the freedom now to get forward and influence the game as he explained following his two-goal match-winning display against Manchester City:

“It’s hard to make this run in a two because you have to stay and you have to control. When we have three players, I know Matic will stay behind, and you have more freedom to go in front.”

Perhaps what supporters will enjoy most is neither his timely contributions going forward or his steeliness in defense, but rather the pleasure he derives in engaging in the “dark arts”. He’s a player you love when he’s on your side, but would absolutely loathe if he played for a rival.

Herrera has a penchant for committing niggling fouls, exaggerating contact while rolling around on the ground and generally getting under the skin of opponents.

He did as much in the Manchester derby. He got Gabriel Jesus so hot under the collar the Brazilian lost the plot and rather than looking for an equalizer was more hell-bent on putting one in on Herrera.

And he was at it again yesterday at Wembley doing whatever he possibly could to prevent Dele Alli from getting away on the counter.

These antics serve a greater purpose than to simply get under an opponent’s skin though. They disrupt the flow of the game and can break up or slow down opposition attacks. When protecting a lead this is invaluable.

If United are to push on next season to challenge for the Premier League or in Europe there is much work that needs to be done with the squad. A piece of that will certainly be to reinforce in central midfield. However, Herrera’s late season re-emergence has helped to solidify the foundations in place and provide a template for the type of balance they must strive for consistently in midfield to progress moving forward.

Written by Ashwin Ramnath

Ander Herrera still an important player at Manchester United?

Although Ander Herrera hasn’t played many games for Manchester United this season, he still remains an integral part of the squad and still has many years left in him at Old Trafford.

The Spanish midfielder joined United from Athletic Bilbao back in 2014 and was seen as a very promising player who was looking to break into a successful Spanish team. Since then, however, it hasn’t been all plain sailing for the 28-year-old, and he has found life tough in the Premier League.

The midfielder had a tough start to his United career after he picked up an injury after just one game. Upon his return, though the Spaniard both scored and assisted goals in a 4-0 win against Queens Park Rangers. From then on, Herrera was an integral part of United’s starting XI, and made 26 appearances, scoring six goals.

The following season was more of the same, Herrera played in all put 11 of United’s league games, and won his first trophy at Old Trafford, winning the FA Cup against Crystal Palace.

However, last season was a real breakthrough season for Herrera at United and was in sensational form in Mourinho’s first year at Old Trafford. He had a starring role in both United’s League Cup and Europa League-winning campaigns. Herrera also started 31 league games, becoming an integral team player for the Reds.

The performance that really stood out last season was the home game against Chelsea where Herrera nullified PFA Player of the year Eden Hazard, man marking him for 90 minutes in the 2-0 win.

However, this season, games have been very hard to come by for the 28-year-old and has made most of his appearances off of the bench, and often late in games. Apparently, it all stems from the Europa League tie against Celta Vigo last season. Herrera reportedly invited a friend with close links to the Spanish sides to United’s Carrington training ground.

The Daily Mail reported that boss Jose Mourinho was furious about the incident and firmly laid down the law to the Spaniard. Ever since then Herrera’s game time has been limited, and his relationship with the boss has been somewhat fractured.

However, in spite of that Herrera still remains a vital player for United and will give his all to the team if called upon. Speaking in September, the midfielder said:

“I am always ready to play. I am a team player and when the manager needs me, I will be there and that’s it. In football, there are no surprises.”

At just 28, Herrera has a lot of years of football left in him, and the fact that Barcelona are reportedly interested in the Spaniard shows just how highly regarded he still is despite his lack of game time.

He has found it tough to get in the side ahead of players such as Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominay and Marouane Fellaini but with Michael Carrick retiring at the end of the season and Fellaini likely to leave the club on a free, United are going to need some depth to the midfield, and Herrera is a player who can add a lot to the squad, United need to hang on to him.

Written by Dan Pearce

copyright: JW