On the third day of the January transfer window, my true love gave to me...
Three Basque midfielders,
When Ander Herrera struggled to get into the Athletic Bilbao team at the start of the season, here were some who absurdly claimed United had 'dodged a bullet' in not signing the midfielder in the summer, as though he'd suddenly become a bad player overnight. Those people were then made to look very silly as he played against Barcelona three days ago and gave a wonderful performance. His whole match highlights can be found here, which are a good insight into the sort of players he is.
As well as his passing ability, what stand out are his energy and ability to run with the ball. The energy allows him to make the sort of interceptions that, despite what the useless and inaccurate statistics say, United simply don't make. Rather than just sit back and collect aimless hoofs, Herrera bursts forward, putting himself in positions that disrupt the opposition play.
In addition to that, his dribbling ability is hugely useful in midfield - think how effective Anderson has been at doing that for us on the few times he's been fit or bothered. It makes him very difficult to press, which is usually where United have struggled in recent years. It's hard to close someone down when they can simply skip past you.
Above all, Herrera seems to have the tenacity that ensures he wouldn't need to do too much adapting to fit into English football. As an all-rounder, he could fit nicely into our current setup, and adds plenty of pace, intelligence and creativity to the team while being very useful when we don't have the ball too. The question is, how likely is it?
There's no doubt Herrera would jump at the chance to join United, so it depends on the clubs. Athletic are still unlikely to sell him for a fee below his release clause, but the situation may be desperate enough for United to spring it, with the club looking in danger of missing out on the top four and in desperate need of midfield reinforcements. Anderson is almost certainly a goner in the window, while Michael Carrick has struggled for fitness and form and Tom Cleverley has been awful.
Hopefully, that'll spur the club into action. Drastic times call for drastic measures, and Herrera could well be the player we're looking for. Much was made last year about the club taking too long to complete the deal on the final day, before it transpired that the club simply didn't actually pay the release clause because they didn't think he was worth it. While the release clause stands, it's not as likely as once it seemed, but while the argument can be made that Herrera is not worth €36m, it's a lot more difficult to argue it wouldn't be money well spent for United given how much he could improve the side.