After their last attempt to sign Athletic Bilbao’s Ander Herrera descended into farce a year ago, Manchester United look to have finally got their man, which is not good news for the immensely proud Basque footballing institution.
Amid a scenario of allegations of offers—both real and imaginary—mysterious men purporting to be club representatives, and anger and recriminations on all sides, the net result of the whole tawdry affair last summer was that Herrera stayed put.
Until that point, Herrera was convinced he was on his way to Old Trafford. He was not amused when the deal fell flat, but the truth of the matter was that David Moyes did not feel Herrera was worth the €36 million on his buyout clause.
But being the intelligent and thoughtful professional that he is, Herrera got over it and dedicated himself to doing the best he possibly could for Athletic.
And now it seems the new regime at United do think he’s worth the investment, especially as they know that the €36 million fee will become €40 million on July 1 and that Bilbao are not best known for their willingness to haggle.
The person now most cheesed off will be Bilbao manager Ernesto Valverde, who will obviously wonder what hopes there are for his club. They can’t convince Herrera to stay, even though they will be competing in the Champions League next season and United won’t be.
In reality, however, this was never a difficult decision for Herrera, and it isn’t just the minor detail that he will be doubling his salary to a not-unsubstantial €3 million a year.
It’s actually more to do with the fact that, although Herrera is a Basque, he certainly wasn’t brought up with the Basque philosophy, having spent his formative years at Real Zaragoza before joining Bilbao in 2011.
Players such as Julen Guerrero and Joseba Etxeberria bleed Bilbao blood, with the former having spent his entire career there.
And Etxeberria played an entire season for the club for no money toward the end of his career, as BBC Sport noted.
For players like them, playing for Bilbao is about more than just playing for a club. Not so for Herrero, who clearly believes that the world is bigger than just Bilbao.
The 24-year-old has been speaking to Juan Mata and David de Gea about life at Old Trafford and is also a huge football fan. While I’m sure you’re thinking that all professional players should be, trust me, he is totally obsessed with the game as both a player and a fan.
So where is Herrera going to play? He’s been used by Bilbao in a number of different positions around the midfield, although my personal opinion is that he can be best utilised in the No. 10 position with Mata playing wide.
Which gives us a bit of a problem. Playing in that No. 10 position at the moment is a certain Wayne Rooney, so it will be interesting to see what develops.
I'm convinced he has to play between the lines, behind the striker and with two wide men on his side to open up spaces and take advantage of his passing. He works hard too, so he can help with the first line of pressure.
When United last tried to sign Herrera, I was asked if he was worth the money, and I said then that while he may not have been worth it at the time, in two or three years' time at United he certainly would be.
I feel sure that within a year, everyone at the club will be saying what a great signing he has been, and I am also convinced that—while he still needs to score a few more goals—his quick feet and his brain will make him a key member of the Spanish national side of the future.
And a Manchester United star.