Sir Alex Ferguson once said of Athletic Bilbao and their then starlet Ander Herrera that the Spanish side’s workrate was the highest he’d seen in Europe.
That was 2012, as Herrera, Manchester United’s latest signing yesterday, pulled the strings for Bilbao in their Europa League defeat of the three-times European champions.
“But it is not just about their work rate, they are very good footballers too. They will go far,” added Ferguson, his eye very much on Herrera.
In 2013 a botched attempt to sign Herrera followed, when unofficial reports emerged from Spain on deadline day that three people claiming to be United officials, later alleged to be hoaxers, arrived at the Spanish league’s offices in Madrid to pay the buyout clause in full.
However United kept up their pursuit of the talented 24-year-old and in Herrera, who has been capped by every age group with the Spanish national team except the world and European title-winning senior side, it is easy to see why the Old Trafford outfit are so excited.
“Ander is a fantastic young player, with great energy and creativity. We believe him to be one of the brightest young prospects in Spain and I am certain he will be a big hit with the United fans,” said Ryan Giggs, United’s record appearance holder and now assistant boss to Dutch manager Louis van Gaal.
“I’m delighted he has made the decision to come to Manchester and play his part in the club’s future,” added Giggs.
Nevermind the future, Herrera has just proved his worth in arguably the best quality league in the world by helping Bilbao to fourth spot in La Liga, scoring five goals in 33 matches as they finished behind power trio Atletico Madrid, neighbours Real and Barcelona.
The writing had been on the wall. Herrera began his Spanish football days at Real Zaragoza, where he made 41 first-team appearances to help the 1995 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup champions earn a La Liga berth in 2009.
Then in 2011 he returned to Bilbao, the city of his birth, and after helping the eight-times Spanish champions to the Europa League and Copa del Rey finals in his first season under experienced Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa, it was only a matter of time before he was on the radar of the world’s biggest clubs.
After a lacklustre 2013-14, United fans have many, many reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season and most will have a keen eye on the World Cup, as Van Gaal attempts to lead the Dutch to their first Jules Rimet trophy.
“Louis van Gaal is one of the best managers in the world and, for me, I am lucky to be working with him. I want to learn a lot of things and I can’t wait to play with Van Gaal,” Herrera told United’s website.
Not only will Herrera have the privilege of joining forces with the Dutch maestro, he will also link up with two of his former Spain under-21 mates in David De Gea and Juan Mata.
“I was talking to them and they told me that this is the biggest club in the world and that we have a very good squad. We are very good friends and I am sure that they will help me to adapt and get to know the club.”
Main image courtesy of Best Football Highlights via YouTube, with thanks.