It was the awards night at Manchester United and despite it largely being a sober and borderline tense affair with the club preparing for a season defining European final next week, the occasion hosted by Mark Chapman and Rachel Riley saw some of the fan favourites pick up deserving individual honours.
Angel Gomes became the youngest ever player to win the Jimmy Murphy award for being the best at the U18s category while Axel Tuanzebe who is a more familiar name in the senior team following consecutive appearances against Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur was awarded the Denzil Haroun Reserve Team Player of the Year. Henrikh Mkhitaryan picked up his award for a stunning acrobatic effort against Sunderland, who has made it a habit of scoring extraordinary goals since his arrival at Old Trafford.
The most important individual honours on the night however went to Antonio Valencia and Ander Herrera. Valencia, no stranger to both the Player’s player of the year and the more coveted Fans’ player of the year (Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award) having won the duo towards the end of an outstanding individual 2011/12 campaign.
The Ecuador international has reinvented himself in a new position, making a successful transition from a right-sided forward/winger to a right back that could play up and down for 90 minutes and was rightly rewarded with the award voted for by his colleagues, recognizing his consistency over the last 18 months, playing an integral role to United winning the two domestic trophies on offer.
I wrote about the three best candidates for the other award – arguably the most important of the night,a few weeks ago. Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera who was my third personal choice for the award has indeed won it – handed to him by three-time winner and compatriot in the national side David De Gea. It does not surprise many as Herrera would probably win any award voted for by the fans due to his standing among the supporters. For a player that is touted in some sections as the successor to Wayne Rooney, with regard to captaincy, getting the ‘thumbs up’ from the fans, in many ways, is the prerogative.
Herrera has had a very good individual season, his best at the club since his arrival from Athletic Bilbao. Under Mourinho, in a well-defined and fleshed out role and with a consistent run of games, it is not hard to imagine why the Spaniard has thrived. His best performances have come in a midfield three when he was pitted alongside Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick, which for a large period in December and January, looked their best setup in both ends of the pitch.
The 27-year old has been United’s best midfielder by a mile due to his adaptability and being able to stick to a specific plan and carry it out to absolute perfection – arguably the two traits most valued by Jose Mourinho. From a defensive standpoint, Herrera has excelled, having made the most tackles and interceptions at the club while his attacking contributions in his big games cannot be argued with.
In addition to completing the highest number of passes at the club, he has also created the most number of goals at United (6), with three of those coming in home games against Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea – where United have picked up 7 out of 9 points. Whenever United have hit the heights they should, Herrera more often than not, has been the architect.
On winning the award, he said,
“It’s very special for me to win this award because when you see the list of winners, you realize how important it is. I feel it [the fans’ affection] and I’m very thankful but I think a Manchester United player can never stop; we have to keep giving them the affection back because you can see we don’t always perform at our best, yet they are always behind us. I like to demand a lot of myself because I feel I can give more, and more, and more to the team. I am happy and I think it is the right attitude. But when everyone is saying you’re having a great season, I don’t think it is good for you, so I don’t listen too much.”
It is refreshing that Ander Herrera comes off as someone thoroughly grounded and appreciates where he is. That will never go unnoticed in an era when footballers are accused of being detached from working class supporters having become the victims of digitization.
No matter what happens in the next week, as United are on the cusp of winning their second piece of silverware in a supposedly abject season, the 27-year old can allow himself to sulk in the glorious Spanish weather after the curtains are drawn on a long campaign, for showing his worth, both on and off the pitch.