Search icon


12th Jun 2017

Why Mourinho rates Herrera so highly – and how he defied Jose’s instructions to secure Europa glory

Fascinating stuff...

Simon Lloyd

Quite how Ander Herrera failed to hold down a regular starting role during Louis van Gaal’s time at Manchester United remains a mystery.

Having played his part in Athletic Club’s Europa League victory over United a couple of seasons beforehand, many of the club’s supporters were already well aware of Herrera’s quality. Here was a player that not only had an eye for a pass – something United’s midfield badly lacked when Michael Carrick wasn’t on the field – but was also dynamic and eager to play at pace. When his side were not in possession, he was determined not to let opponents stop for breath, chasing down everything he could possibly chase down.

On top of all this, he badly wanted the move to Old Trafford, too, and had waited a year to complete the transfer after the farcical nature of United’s first attempt to sign him under David Moyes.

In short, it seemed like Van Gaal’s first major signing at United was an important one.

Except it wasn’t. Not for Van Gaal, anyway. It quickly became clear that although the Dutchman had been manager at the time of Herrera’s arrival, the deal to sign the Spaniard had probably been agreed before his appointment.

Although he featured in the first few games of Van Gaal’s first season, it soon became clear that Herrera would never be considered a regular starter under this manager. The former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss was hell-bent on bringing his patient, possession-focused brand of football to United, and the sense of urgency Herrera brought to their midfield and his willingness to try a risky pass once in a while didn’t seem to fit in with this ethos.

Things have changed considerably under Jose Mourinho.

Having replaced Van Gaal a year ago, Herrera has become an important cog in Mourinho’s United machine. Instead of making appearances from the bench to play on the wing (this happened on several occasions under Van Gaal), the Spaniard has been a mainstay in the centre of United’s midfield. The high tempo, eager-to-play-it-forward Herrera that bossed the two Europa League games against United a few years ago has returned, and United are undoubtedly a better side when he’s on his game.

His value to his manager has also been evident from a defensive point of view. Not only did he have a key role to play in United’s goals against Chelsea in April, he was also trusted to nullify the threat of Eden Hazard by man marking him out of the game entirely.

He’s also gained recognition this season for his quick-thinking and intelligence, and there’s no better example of this than his actions immediately before Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s goal in the Europa League final against Ajax.

With United earning an early second-half corner, Mkhitaryan had originally stood outside of the penalty area while Herrera entered the Ajax box. Then, Herrera was picked up by cameras instructing the Armenian to swap places with him. After doing so, the former Borussia Dortmund player prodded home United’s second goal.

Initially, it was assumed that Herrera had done this purely because Mkhitaryan boasted more of a goal threat than he did. However, it’s now emerged that this wasn’t the only reason Herrera acted in this way.

Young Norwegian coach Petter Skogsletten recently attended a coaching seminar given by Jose Mourinho in which he talked at length about his preparation for the game against Ajax. Now, in an interview with Jonas Giæver (worth a follow if you don’t already) in Nettavisen, Skogsletten has revealed that Mourinho was angered to see Herrera going against his orders by instructing Mkhitaryan to switch positions with him ahead of the corner.

However, it later became clear to the United boss that Herrera had acted in this way after realising that Mkhitaryan had already picked up a yellow card in the game.

By occupying a space on the edge of the Ajax area, Mkhitaryan would have been expected to be on defensive duty if Ajax had defended the corner and launched a counter attack. In doing so, his chances of picking up a second yellow card would have been increased. Were this to have happened, United would’ve been holding on to a slender one goal advantage with ten men for the remainder of the game.

Herrera’s quick thinking ended up paying off in an entirely different way, but his manager is said to have praised his intelligence and ability to react to a situation.

Fascinating stuff.