Ander Herrera was Manchester United’s player of the year and their big-game specialist under Jose Mourinho. But what’s next? Adam Bate sat down with the midfielder to discuss his relationship with the manager and why he is going to keep getting better and better…
Ask Ander Herrera his targets for next season and the reply is telling. “We are already thinking about the European Super Cup,” he tells Sky Sports. Jose Mourinho’s ‘three trophies’ mantra is clearly shared by these Manchester United players. They know the feeling that comes with winning silverware together. They want to feel it again.
On the Europa League triumph…
“I think it’s the only trophy that Manchester United missed. Now we have all of them we are going to be in the history of the club and that’s important.”
So would he trade the medals for Tottenham’s second-place finish? How about Manchester City’s third spot and their run to the Champions League knockout stages? Not a chance.
“Football is about trophies, no? About achieving objectives,” he says. “Now we are going to play Champions League. Three trophies: League Cup, Community Shield and Europa League. In the beginning of the season we were talking about that. The manager said he was coming to Manchester United to win trophies and he has done it. First season, three trophies.”
Few played a bigger part than Herrera.
Indeed, alongside Paul Pogba and Antonio Valencia, he was one of only three players to start both of the club’s 2017 cup final victories as well as the 2-0 Premier League win over Chelsea – United’s standout result in a difficult league campaign. In the Europa League win over Ajax, just as he had been against the champions-elect, he was the man of the match.
“It was the perfect finish to the season,” says Herrera. “We controlled the game and we got another trophy for our museum.” And that man-of-the-match award? “I am very grateful for the award but, to be honest, I think all of us won the man of the match,” he adds. “When I think about football it is a team sport. I don’t trust too much in personal trophies.”
Even so, the accolades are now coming Herrera’s way. It’s six years since he scored Spain’s winner at the European Under-21 Championships – “the memories are fantastic” – but he had to wait until last year for his senior debut. Now he’s Manchester United’s player of the year and has no doubt who deserves much of the credit for his ongoing improvement.
“Our manager is a winner,” he says.
Mourinho has a habit of testing his players. Pushing them to their limits to ensure mental toughness. Some were the subject of his ire this past season but one suspects it did not take the United boss long to realise that he had found a kindred spirit in Herrera. In fact, the pair established an understanding right from the outset.
“I knew at the beginning of the season that I could be an important player for the team,” says Herrera, speaking at the launch of the latest adidas boots in London. “I had a meeting with him and he told me I was going to be important to him if I got some points and I did it.
“I know it is difficult to play in a big club like Manchester United as a No.10 because you know how many goals you have to score to play there. So I thought I had to add something to my game. I had to give more options to the manager. We both agreed.
On the Premier League form…
“We all know the Premier League is the most important thing and one of the things we have to improve next season. We all know we have had too many draws. That is why we are not in the top four. And next season we have to improve in the Premier League, 100 per cent.”
“He told me that I was going to play sometimes a different role in the team. He told me sometimes I was going to play more defensive and in other games he was going to need me more forward. I told him I’d play wherever he wanted me to play and I would give my best.
“We feel the football in the same way.”
The supporters feel it too. Herrera’s energy levels in midfield coupled with his combative attitude have ensured that the transition to a deeper role was seamless. He made more tackles and more interceptions than any other United player in the Premier League season.
“I just try to go to the pitch and finish the game not being able to complain to myself knowing I have given everything,” says the 27-year-old. “That’s why our fans support me, that’s why our fans believe in me and that’s the way I’m going to continue playing.”
And continue to improve?
“This is the best season so far,” concludes Herrera, “but hopefully I can have better seasons because I don’t want to stop. I’m going to keep playing and keep improving and keep making our fans proud. I want to continue adding things to my game, to my style.
“And I will do it.”
That’s the attitude that Mourinho so appreciates. Next up? That’s the European Super Cup.