Ander Herrera to Manchester United: Who is Athletic Bilbao's £29m midfielder?
Manchester United are reported to be in advanced talks to sign the highly-rated midfielder in a £29m deal, and here is our detailed guide to what fans can expect from the Spaniard.
In August last year, Athletic Bilbao made their way to the Santiago Bernabeu for their first league game of the season away to Real Madrid. Gareth Bale's £85m move to Los Merengues dominated the headlines as his move remained in the balance. But on the Athletic bench, Ander Herrera anxiously awaited any news of his projected move to England.
The Spaniard was dropped to the bench for the game which, without their best player, seemed almost impossible for Athletic to win. Alas, the Basque outfit lost 3-1.
It would appear that coach Ernesto Valverde felt the midfielder was not in the right frame of mind for the game, with speculation rife that a move to Manchester United would materialise before the transfer deadline.
It never did.
Athletic demanded that clubs who were interested in their star man either meet his €36 million (£29 million) release clause or pursue other targets. For Manchester United, who had endured a torrid summer failing to sign their transfer targets - most notably Cesc Fabregas - this was their chance to sign one of Europe's most sought-after midfielders. But they decided against it, instead signing Marouane Fellaini from Everton for a similar fee.
Louis van Gaal will take over at Manchester United this summer and Herrera could be his first signing
Now, after their worst-ever Premier League finish, the Red Devils are thought to be back in for the 24-year-old as Louis van Gaal attempts to make his mark at the club.
If reports in Spain are to be believed, Herrera is close to sealing his move to the Premier League giants - almost a year after his original transfer broke down, and even for a steep price of £29m - it would be the club's fourth highest transfer fee for a player - it seems to be a shrewd move by chief executive Ed Woodward.
Starting out at Real Zaragoza, Herrera was picked up by Athletic Bilbao in July 2011 for €7.5m (£6m) and has gone on to make over 100 appearances in all competitions. Capped at Under-21 level for Spain, he is yet to make his debut for the senior side, although he featured as part of Spain's Olympics team at London 2012.
Primarily, Herrera is a playmaker, and a good one at that, registering five goals and five assists in 33 La Liga games last season. He was used as the most advanced of the three-man midfield to provide support to the attacking trio of Iker Muniain, Markel Susaeta and Aritz Aduriz.
But don't be fooled by his lack of a powerful physical presence; Herrera is a tenacious midfielder when deployed in the centre of the park. And while he picks up his fair share of yellow cards - seven in total - his commitment to every tackle is unquestionable, making over 100 tackles overall last season.
Working alongside Mikel Rico and Ander Iturraspe, the Athletic midfield became notorious for retaining possession, and as Rico and Iturraspe picked up the scraps in midfield, Herrera was entitled to press forward at will.
Herrera is highly-rated in Spain and has been linked with Barcelona
Of course, Manchester United fans may be concerned at the club's decision to sign another attack-minded player when the defence needs strengthening. But essentially, the lack of creativity for strikers Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie was one of the main problems at Old Trafford last season.
Herrera's signing, however, is the perfect remedy for this issue. His speciality of working the ball in tight pockets of space, engineering eye-of-the-needle through balls to the main target man makes him a dangerous weapon in attack. Even up against a side who play with a deep defensive line, Herrera possesses the ammunition to unlock defences with consummate ease.
If there is perhaps one area he could improve, it would be his goalscoring. But van Gaal may not see this as a particularly pressing issue, given that Herrera is likely to occupy a deeper central midfield role.
Manchester United have long struggled to fill the void in midfield left by Paul Scholes. With Ander Herrera's impending arrival, that could all be about to change.
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