Loyalty doesn’t pay. It’s the hard lesson that Ander Herrera has learned this week. In a world of disinterested footballers either choosing to declare their love for the badge disingenuously or not at all, the Basque native has wholly embraced life in Manchester, playing for Manchester United and everything that this entails. He is the epitome of Eamon Dunphy’s ‘the good pro;’ that hard working player who puts his shift in every week, doesn’t complain to the media when he is dropped and doesn’t have his agent stoking the transfer fires looking for more money elsewhere.
Showing a forthrightness that would make modern agents like Mino Raiola wince, Herrera has always appeared happy at Manchester United, passionate to wear the badge and seemed to live and die with United’s wins and losses. His Instagram posts show shopping trips in Altrincham and Hale rather than trips to Paris or Dubai. He has chosen Sugar Junction over Salt Bae. He doesn’t appear in Snapchats with Benjamin Mendy like Paul Pogba does, a player who has never showed Herrera’s level of devotion to all things United.
Yet Ander Herrera appears to be on his way out of Manchester United this summer with a move to Paris Saint-Germain likely and despite being a fan favourite, winning over the Stretford End with his honesty, integrity and the look of being a fine young man, the fans are not clamouring for him to stay.
Herrera has the audacity to look for £200,000 a week – an unthinkable amount – but something which is possibly becoming the going rate at top level clubs. The request however has resulted in the fans turning a blind eye to the exit of one of their most committed players.
It has prompted a reappraisal of Ander Herrera and how good he really is. His highlight reel will show him celebrating wildly in front of United’s supporters (David May can claim something similar); that defence splitting pass against Chelsea in 2017 and his impressive man-marking job on Eden Hazard in the same game.
It took Herrera more than two years to finally find his role at United. In Mourinho’s team, he was to be ‘the dog;’ the terrier, fighter, and the on-field José Mourinho who would fight for every ball. But even then, despite some clamouring for Herrera to then get the captaincy, he found himself out of Mourinho’s preferred starting XI in favour of Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
But the tenets of Herrera’s personality and game that make him such a beloved squad player possibly do not lend themselves to being a fantastic player. He is passion personified, he rallies his teammates and in both the post-match celebrations and interviews that followed Manchester United’s victory over Arsenal in January in the FA Cup, he was championing the case of fallen idol Alexis Sánchez as someone who will be great again.
These are not necessarily the traits of a great footballer. The traits that the supporters so adore in Herrera are visible at other clubs, but in better players or sometimes even in peripheral figures at clubs. The championing traits could be seen in the Manchester City All or Nothing documentary. Not by Kevin De Bruyne or David Silva, but in kitman and glorified cheerleader Brandon Ashton and the manner in which he celebrated their victories and rallied their players before and after games.
Ashton wasn’t earning £200,000 a week in his role.
While the money paid to football superstars does not matter to the everyday supporter, there is an understanding that every player has their price. For all Herrera’s declarations of love for Manchester United, saying the right things and being ‘the good pro,’ there is a certain coldness from the fans in his desires for more money.
There will be no repeat of Roy Keane in 1999 or Wayne Rooney in 2010 with supporters clamouring for their idol to be paid whatever it takes to avoid them going elsewhere. Ander Herrera is a player adored by the supporters but he is not their idol. Every player has their price and for all Herrera’s integrity and honesty, it is cut and dry to the United faithful.
Though having said all this, maybe the absolute devotion of a Herrera cannot be achieved in players of a higher station. Maybe Herrera knew that at Manchester United, he was achieving as high a station as he could and that his devotion, his earnestness was sincere.
It is somewhat ironic that a player who has never demonstrated Herrera’s affection for United or an understanding of its history, Paul Pogba, is far more likely to be offered an exorbitant contract than the Basque. The antithesis of Herrera, Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola no doubt cringes when he sees images of Herrera in Altrincham or cavorting solely with Manchester United’s Spanish contingent. No, for Pogba and Raiola, being so earnest merely limits your contract negotiation options.
Pogba and Raiola know that loyalty doesn’t pay and should Ander Herrera leave Manchester United in the coming months, he might ruefully remember those days in Altrincham and regret not being more evasive in his dealings with Manchester United and their faithful.
The days of the good pro are definitely numbered.