Strange things have happened at Man United off the pitch in the last three seasons. The amazing bottle job post Sir Alex Ferguson from the hierarchy has quite remarkably transformed a powerhouse challenging for trophies with a vicious regularity to a club that has quickly accustomed itself to mediocrity and ridicule. On the pitch, stranger things are happening. Phil Jones and Morgan Schneiderlin taking corners, an 18-year old still in school carrying the hopes of a two-billion dollar franchise and more recently Ashley Young playing up top in a game United were not supposed to lose – the supporters have quite literally seen it all.
Something equally stranger is taking place at Old Trafford in the form of Ander Herrera’s continued absence from the side. It has come to a point where some fans would not recognise Herrera when he is on the pitch – his appearances under Louis Van Gaal have been so few and far between despite his usually good showing in those rather limited minutes. After hurriedly checking and double-checking physioroom.com for any case of injury, I can confirm the Spanish midfielder is perfectly all right and fit enough to play football for Manchester United. So, why is that not the case?
To be honest, I’ve asked myself the same question since he joined the club in the summer of 2014 – with the Dutchman himself. Below are his numbers pitted against some of the fellow midfielders plying their trade in England’s big clubs. Strangely, they do look quite impressive, considering it is his debut season under a manager who is new to the country and the fact that he’s actually played less games than any other on the list.
Ander Herrera v The Rest in 2014/15
The 26-year old has fared better than anyone in terms of number of goals scored and interceptions made per 90 minutes in 2014/15 signalling his all-round ability in the middle. This is also the reason why so many United fans got excited and why it was so difficult for United to prise him away from the hands of Athletic club Bilbao. Even, in that season, he’s played the least minutes when compared to the rest, and notably, United’s best form in the second half of campaign, coincided with Herrera’s regular influence from midfield.
Fast-forward a year, the story is not too different. I’ve put together the same list of players and tried to compare and contrast their statistics and Ander Herrera, again, has been relatively impressive.
The Spaniard again, has averaged more goals per ninety minutes than any other midfielder in the list, also, with a superior shot accuracy. An impressive amount of tackles won every 90 minutes, certainly comparable to Fernandinho who has had an ‘outstanding season’ for City this season; as is the case with Emre Can, who’s been a revelation under Jürgen Klopp. Not much of a difference, is there? But, then again, the damning stat could be found at the very top – as Herrera has played at least about 1000 minutes less than the rest of the midfielders here, which is a shame. Hindsight as they say, is often beautiful, but in Herrera’s case, it sure is not.
I cannot point to a reason why this is the situation with Ander Herrera, a self-confessed football mad individual. His mentality on and off the pitch has always been one that has made him popular on the terraces but fact remains is that he can be great for United, influential in the middle, given time on the pitch, which, sadly is something that is not happening at the moment, at least under Louis Van Gaal. Asked about the upcoming FA Cup replay, the 26-year old said without being able to conceal his fan-like excitement,
“In the Premier League you show your balance but in the cup you show your spirit and your desire to win. The FA Cup is a big competition, it’s very emotional.”
He has the heart and desire to go with his mettle on the ball – and United, at this point in time, and it is safe to say, lack both in abundance. One could only hope the manager has realised that too.