There are a lot of things that Manchester United would like to have done differently in the transition out of the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
Though there were plenty of increasingly hideous moments on the pitch throughout David Moyes’s disastrous reign, the revelation that there were imposters of some kind in Spain looking to tie up a deal for Athletic Bilbao’s Ander Herrera without the club’s knowledge might have been the true nadir.
United’s identification of the Spaniard as a central midfield target ended in a rejected €32 million bid and a comically unprofessional chase from whichever representatives ended up talking to Athletic. But it is telling that they moved quickly after the appointment of Louis van Gaal to go back and do the deal properly this time.
The 24-year-old arrived at the club’s Carrington training ground on Wednesday afternoon with a team doctor on the scene and, after buying out his own release clause from the Basque club, he completed a transfer to the English side on Thursday.
Though not called up by Vicente del Bosque to the Spain squad for World Cup 2014, Ander – as he is referred to in his home country – might have added some much-needed zest to a midfield which turned surprisingly stale in Brazil. As is the case for so many of his compatriots, he would probably have earned dozens of caps for any other nation by this point.
The Red Devils have arguably been searching for presence and class in the centre of their midfield since Roy Keane’s retirement. Though Ander is probably one or two steps below some of their other reported targets – Toni Kroos or Arturo Vidal, to name but two of an almost embarrassingly long list – he looks like exactly the sort of player required.
The 24-year-old is most notable for his creative side but despite being rather slight of build, does not shy away from the defensive side of midfield duty and enjoys getting stuck in. Four red cards in his career to date suggest that he has not yet mastered the art but he is certainly ready to hold his own in a Premier League midfield.
Ander’s skills with the ball at his feet are, naturally, what will likely excite fans the most. A member of the Athletic team who exposed United so classily in the Europa League under Marcelo Bielsa in 2011-12, Red Devils fans know only too well his fine technique and teamwork.
As keen to shoot as he is to dribble – which is to say, quite keen indeed as only six midfielders made more attempts on goal than him in La Liga last season – the Spaniard made a key contribution as Athletic finished fourth despite being shorn of star striker Fernando Llorente.
The midfielder is quite capable of making an impact in big games, as evidenced by his opening goal in Spain’s 2-0 triumph over Switzerland in the Under-21s European Championships final in 2011, and he offers a more dynamic all-round midfield package than the likes of Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini.
Ander is not about to solve all of United’s problems on his own but it is a promising sign that the first signing of the Van Gaal era will be a central midfielder of his quality. If they continue to buy well, the young Basque should prosper at Old Trafford.