Before scoffing at the title and deeming this an unfairly premature comparison, kindly read further. The fact that I had to bring a legendary figure like Andres Iniesta into this is purely down to my unconditional love towards Herrera and also, the fact that I want him to do it the way Iniesta does, in the Premier League for the team I quite admire. And also the fact that, well, Herrera could actually turn out to be someone who’s at least half as good as the veteran Spaniard in his pomp, at Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United. Herrera has been United’s best signing this season by some distance and while it only took him half a season to prove that, I could already visualize the child-like excitement of the supporters about the prospect of Herrera getting more game time next season meaning more starts, more assists and perhaps even more synchronous celebrations with Wayne Rooney. Chuffed, aren’t we?
In many ways, Man United have been sorely missing a player of this ilk in the midfield, a player who can keep the ball rolling, pushing the team in the right direction, setting the tone of every attacking move with every meaningful pass or a forward run literally relying on his distribution. Though this is something Paul Scholes managed to do at United for almost a decade and a half plus scoring some absolute screamers every now and again, his retirement from football once and for all did leave a gaping hole as big as Anderson’s belly, which now slowly but finally looks addressed by the manager. However, not until he decided to give Herrera the chances he deserved to prove himself in a new environment. And boy did he take to the league like duck to water!
The numbers for a midfielder finding his feet in a different country and footballing climate are admirable and there is no getting away from that. In a nutshell, Herrera has contributed to 9 goals this campaign so far in 16 starts. When you break them down, it appears that the Spanish midfielder has scored 5 goals in his debut season while assisting 4 times having also created 20 other chances from open play in a grand total of 23 appearances. His passing accuracy should not surprise anybody when you realize where he’s come from, it’s somewhere close to 89% – staggering when you consider the number of passes he averages per game (75) out of which at least 40 are forward passes, goes on to highlight his ability to keep things ticking in the most vital area of the field.
What sets Herrera apart from fellow midfielders of his age group in the Premier League is his defensive nous which often goes unappreciated. After all, very few would care to remember the number of interceptions a midfielder makes during the course of a 90 minute football match where goals take the cake. Herrera does play a major role in winning the possession back as quick as possible and improves the overall ball retention of the side – which will also explain the amount of possession United enjoys (enjoys?) during the game giving themselves ample time to create an opening. Louis Van Gaal can talk all day about how his system involves controlling the football match and thereby the result. But only he knows how important Herrera has been to his philosophy bearing fruit for a good enjoyable spell where United swatted aside the likes of Spurs, Liverpool and Man City with a newly found swagger.
Herrera, bought for close to 30 million pounds from Bilbao, is already looking forward to and thinking about a prolonged stay at Man United in a bid to be an integral part of this new era and direction the club is heading towards. He’s been saying some nice things on top of his brilliant displays on the pitch that has already elevated him to a fan favorite at Old Trafford where his name is now a regular fixture among the Stretford End faithful. In a recent interview he said,
“I’m very happy and proud to be here. Now I understand it at this club I am enjoying a lot and I hope to have a lot of time here at Man United. I’m a young player – I’m 25 – so I have to improve. I’m learning from all our midfielders like Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney, so I think I have to improve a lot still but I’m happy with my development.”
With Barcelona lurking behind the scenes to take him back to Spain in a pursuit to replace their celebrated Xavi-Iniesta duo according to one particular source reporting that the Catalan club’s sporting director Ariedo Braida will make contact with United officials to sound them out about selling Herrera once the transfer embargo is lifted. Though the chances of him returning to his native country after just one season remain slim, the possibility of him making one of the central midfield positions his own at Old Trafford for years to come looks very promising, like his conversion rate.