By George Ankers
There are a lot of things that Manchester United would like to have done differently about the transition out of the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
Though there were plenty of increasingly hideous moments on the pitch throughout David Moyes's disastrous reign, the revelation that there were imposters of some kind in Spain looking to tie up a deal for Athletic Bilbao’s Ander Herrera without the club's knowledge might have been the true nadir.
United’s identification of the Spaniard as a central midfield target ended in a rejected £25.5 million bid and a comically unprofessional chase from whichever representatives ended up talking to Athletic. But it is telling that they have moved quickly after the appointment of Louis van Gaal to go back and do the deal properly this time.
The 24-year-old arrived at the club’s Carrington training ground on Wednesday afternoon, with a team doctor on the scene, and the deal was completed a mere 24 hours after. Herrera was now, at long last, a Manchester United player.
A New Herrera | Ander's record in La Liga over 2013-14
Though not called up by Vicente del Bosque to the Spain squad for World Cup 2014, Herrera might have added some much-needed zest to a midfield which turned surprisingly stale in Brazil. As is the case for so many of his compatriots, he would probably have earned dozens of caps for any other nation by this point.
The Red Devils have been searching for presence and class in the centre of their midfield arguably since Roy Keane’s retirement. Though Herrera is probably one or two steps below some of their other reported targets – Toni Kroos or Arturo Vidal, to name but two of an almost embarrassingly long list – he looks like exactly the sort of player required.
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Herrera’s skills with the ball at his feet are, naturally, what will likely excite fans the most. A member of the Athletic team who exposed United so classily in the Europa League under Marcelo Bielsa in 2011-12, Red Devils fans know only too well his fine technique and teamwork.
As keen to shoot as he is to dribble – which is to say, quite keen indeed as only six midfielders made more attempts on goal than him in La Liga last season – the Spaniard made a key contribution as Athletic finished fourth despite being shorn of star striker Fernando Llorente.
The midfielder is quite capable of making an impact in big games, as evidenced by his opening goal in Spain’s 2-0 triumph over Switzerland in the Under-21s European Championships final in 2011, and offers a more dynamic all-round midfield package than the likes of Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini.
Herrera is not about to solve all of United’s problems on his own but it is a promising sign that the first signing of the Van Gaal era is a central midfielder of his qualities. If they continue to buy well, the young Basque should prosper at Old Trafford.
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