Ander and Shaw add silk and steel as superstars wait

June 27, 2014 Tags: , Reads 13 comments
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It has become awfully passé, the long-running debate about Manchester United’s midfield deficiency. After all, it has been six long years since United signed a proper central midfielder. And no, Marouane Fellaini doesn’t count. This is not exactly United’s road to Damascus, but the club, it seems, has finally got the point as Ander Herrera joins from Athletic Club Bilbao this week for some £28.7 million.

And as if massive outlay is suddenly all the rage at United, Herrera’s acquisition was followed within 24 hours, by the long-anticipated capture of Southampton’s talented teenage left-back, Luke Shaw. It amounts to just under £60 million spent as executive vice chairman Ed Woodward finally flexes United’s financial muscle a year after a summer of transfer buffoonery ended with Fellaini stumbling through Old Trafford’s doors.

Woodward may not yet be vindicated in his approach, but there is just a smattering of redemption this week.

Herrera, a Spanish under-23 international, joins after three years at Athletic, where he has developed a reputation as one of the finest all-round midfielders in La Liga. The Basque is the quality of player that United should have acquired last summer, albeit it is a deal that Woodward attempted with abject failure. Instead, with Fellaini parachuting into United’s engine room on deadline day, the Reds simply exacerbated a problem six years in the making.

Herrera may not be an instant fix, although expectation is already high. Indeed, Herrera’s story is nuanced, with a narrative that does not yet hold an obvious conclusion. While the Basque’s talent, commitment and all-round quality should mean success at Old Trafford, he remains an understated presence that may yet be consumed by the intense focus that goes with becoming a United player.

After all, United is signing a player who is neither a youngster – he turns 25 before the season begins – nor one who has yet made it to the top of his profession. In truth, Herrera was some distance from making the Spanish World Cup squad and must step up both in class and delivery in the coming seasons.

Success at United could yet fast track the Basque into Vincente del Bosque’s post tiki-taka squad.

Those are the questions. The more positive story is the balance and all-round contribution Herrera is certain to bring to Louis van Gaal’s side. Here is player comfortable in several positions, but who has the raw ability to excel as the attacking heart of United’s new midfield.

Neat enough in possession, as befits this generation of Spaniards, unusually competitive off the ball, and incisive with his passing, Herrera should win over United’s fans with a bustling style. Though it might be foolish to expect instant gratification from a man not yet accustomed to the grandest stage.

“It’s is a dream come true,” said Herrera on Monday. “I’m excited to now be living in Manchester and I can’t wait for my first game. I am very happy and very proud to be at Manchester United, I can promise the fans I will be a good professional and work hard.”

Meanwhile, assistant manager Ryan Giggs called United’s new acquisition “a fantastic young player, with great energy and creativity” and one of “the brightest young prospects” in La Liga. “He will be a big hit with the United fans.”

Certainly, Herrera’s statistics point to a player who will contribute both to United’s attack and defence in the coming season. Though frequently deployed at ’10’ in Bilbao, and sometimes in wide positions, it is surely at eight – Fellaini’s supposed preferred role – that Ander will flourish under van Gaal in the Premier League.

The midfielder scored five from 68 shots on goal last season and made five further assists from 54 key passes in a solid offensive campaign for the Basque outfit. Almost 40 dribbles points to a player ready to carry the ball forward, although one who is sometimes wasteful with the final ball.

There is surely more to come. Whether these are the numbers to really excite from a ‘number 10’ at a Champions League club is an open question, although they are generally superior to any of United’s current central midfielders.

“An intelligent, quick attacking midfielder with a great brain and a superb attitude he is not dissimilar to his idol, Andres Iniesta,” claims Spanish pundit Guillermo Balague in the Telegraph.

“He can help organise the attack his main strength is in finding gaps to pass to forwards – only Cesc Fabregas gave more through balls last season than him.”

High praise indeed.

Defensively, although not widely expected to make a significant contribution in Athletic’s 4-2-3-1 system under Ernesto Valverde last season, Ander contributed 33 interceptions, 27 clearances and seven blocks, while making 161 tackles. It is a robust style that brought seven yellow cards in 33 league games last season.

Whatever the stats – and there is room for improvement in a £30 million player – it is to Herrera’s credit that a young player should emerge from a traumatic failed transfer; one that descended into farce amid claims that David Moyes did not rate the player and “impostors” had attempted to muscle in on the deal.

“The only person to eventually emerge from the whole sorry saga with any credit was the player himself,” adds Balague. “Herrera knuckled down to enjoy arguably his best ever season with Athletic Bilbao despite a first confusing two months.”

Meanwhile, Shaw arrives as something of a known commodity, having appeared more than 60 times for Southampton since his début in August 2012. He is not yet 19.

The premium on a £27 million fee is huge, of course – one that is now commonplace for a young English player. Yet, Shaw’s appearance for Roy Hodgson’s side in the recent dead rubber against Costa Rica at the World Cup is surely one of many international caps.

With that fee United’s management is betting on acquiring both genuine class in addition to making an investment in the future. The hope is that Shaw becomes the next Rio Ferdinand and not the next Fábio Coentrão. Either is possible; the smart money remains firmly on Shaw emulating the former.

Shaw appeared 35 times in the Premier League last season, making 72 tackles, 37 interceptions, four blocks and 150 clearances. That the Kingston-born youngster made no defensive errors over the season points not only to the player’s quality, but a rare maturity in one so young.

Patrice Evra completed more defensive actions for United last season, but – anecdotally at least – the Frenchman was also caught out of position with far greater frequency than the Southampton man. The evolutionary period from ageing star to young buck will surely not take long.

While the defensive side of Shaw’s game is already of international standard, he will be expected to contribute offensively if Evra is to be challenged in the campaign to come. Shaw contributed no goals and just one assist last season to Evra’s two and four respectively. Yet, Shaw made more crosses and completed more dribbles than the Frenchman.

Back in the boardroom Woodward will garner the praise he so conspicuously missed last summer for pulling off two high-profile deals with little melodrama. Each, with good argument, is over-priced – Herrera in comparison to midfielders of similar stature, Shaw simply for being English.

Yet, the price matters little if the pair contributes significantly to United’s return to Champions League football. After years of parsimony the ruling Glazer family can hardly risk United slipping further behind rivals this summer.

Yet, neither acqusition – perhaps significantly – is the global superstar Woodward so desperately seeks. United might just be the better for it – two players that will slot into the squad without compromising their talents or United’s balance in the process. Understated personalities, perhaps, but Herrera and Shaw promise plenty of genuine quality.


Ollie - June 27, 2014 Reply

you spelt louis wrong in louis van gaal 😛

MunroeL - June 27, 2014 Reply

United have never been great with ‘superstars’ from other clubs. Long may that continue…

judda - June 28, 2014 Reply

Maybe you can strive for achievement and become a prefect at your school.

Barranquilla - June 27, 2014 Reply

dont need superstars, we have that already. as long as we bring in the right players we’re ok. look at Holland

therealdeal - June 28, 2014 Reply

There are 5 more players coming in, including another world-class striker, another world-class midfielder, a world-class left-footed left-winger and the 2 center backs to replace Ferdinand and Vidic.
That should just about use up the 200 million van Gaal has to spend on new players.

Gavin - June 28, 2014 Reply

I don’t see another 5 additions. It would just be too much change at one time. A tough experienced centre back and a quick wideman YES!!. Columbia’s James Rodriguez would be perfect but would cost a bundle. More now than prior to his spectacular performance in the World Cup, BUT considering they spent £33 million on an 18 year old, you never know what Woodward would do.

jackMUFC - June 28, 2014 Reply

Doubt we are getting another striker dude

sunil - June 28, 2014 Reply

It would be very wise to bring pogba and Vidal to make the squad 4-3-3- de gea rafael. varane. Jones. Shaw. herrera. pogba Vidal januzaj/rodriguez rooney/persie. mata. This will be the best squad. shaw&herrera 60 million, Vidal and pogba 95 million, varane 25 million and Rodriguez 40 million . Total 220 million and sell Hernandez, young, nani, flecher, buttner total we will get 50million and welbeck on loan…………plez try it van gaal….

Razzle1978 - June 28, 2014 Reply

Lol! Dream on… Too much championship manager methinks

Razzle1978 - June 28, 2014 Reply

Great article. So far so pleased with transfer dealings. But there’s still work to be done. Getting in a midfield enforcer alongside Herrera is key although I get the feeling LVG will hold out until The January transfer window for Strootman. Utd also lack cutting edge and goals from the wings. Prizing Di Maria or Sanchez away from their respective clubs would be a real coup although seems unlikely. Marco Reus would be a perfect fit, but another long shot given dortmunds unwillingness to do business and current injury. Griezmann? Pedro? Not sure, we need someone in their for sure. Let’s also not forget the importance of clearing out the deadwood. Buttner & Macheda have gone. Hopefully Cleverly, Nani, Young, Anderson, Bebe will follow.

Tom Parkinson - June 28, 2014 Reply

I think these additions are hugely exciting. I don’t know a lot about Herrera, except that he is an actual real life central midfielder – therefore him signing can only be a good thing.

Shaw I think will be a great signing, despite it being well over priced. I like the analogy of Rio and Coentrao, and agree the smart money would be on him replicating Rio. If you think back on Rio, if we had paid over double the £30m we paid, he would still be a bargain for the service he’s given over time. I’m confident Shaw will be the same.

I think 2-3 more signings might happen. A centre back (Hummels ideally, or possibly de Vrij or Martins Indi), a goalscoring winger (Robben or Sanchez would be my choice) and another centre midfielder (probably a cheaper buy like Blind, De Jong, Clasie). I don’t see us going for another right back like Janmaat, Rafael just needs to get going again and he is a top class attacking full back.

SalfordTom - July 1, 2014 Reply

Good moves although impossible to know how either will cope with Old Trafford and our expectations. Five goals seems meagre but Herrera may have other terrier-like qualities. We certainly need them because I have very little faith in either Smalling or Duncan coming through to make anything like the sort of contribution we need. Hopefully the chequebook hasn’t been locked away yet.

therealdeal - July 3, 2014 Reply

When I said 5 more signings which included a striker was because Hernandez wants to leave and Van Persie spends a lot of time out injured. Did you read what van Gaal is saying. He wants to bring in 6 more players and sell the players that don’t fit into his plans. He intends to build his own team in one go and is aiming to make an instant impact.

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