Ander Herrera joined Manchester United in June 2014 to become the first new arrival of the Louis van Gaal era. Although it was a wrench to leave Athletic Club, the Bilbao-born midfielder described the move as a “dream come true”.
His schooling in Spanish football came at Real Zaragoza, where he made 41 first-team appearances and helped them win promotion to La Liga in 2009. Two years later, Herrera moved to Athletic Club in the city of his birth for a reported fee of £6.6million.
As one third of an effective midfield triumvirate that also included Oscar de Marcos and Ander Iturraspe, Herrera became a key component in a team that quickly ascended the ranks of Spanish and European football. In fact, during his first season in Bilbao (2011/12) under the tutelage of maverick manager Marcelo Bielsa, the club were runners-up in the Europa League and Copa del Rey.
Athletic Club knocked out United en route to the Europa League final, home and away in March 2012. Herrera played a starring role at Old Trafford for Bielsa’s powerfully energetic side, clocking up 86 minutes of action and one assist for de Marcos. After witnessing his team’s second-leg defeat at San Mames, Sir Alex Ferguson said admiringly: “Athletic Club’s work rate is higher than any I have seen in Europe. But it is not just about their work rate, they are very good footballers too. They will go far.”
Herrera’s own progress was hampered in the following 2013/14 campaign however, with a troublesome hernia injury limiting his appearances while a number of his team-mates secured big moves away from Bilbao. Ander’s eventual return to action helped steer Athletic away from the relegation zone. Interest from overseas clubs including United was reported in the summer of 2013 but an exit did not materialise and so he continued to impress in Spain, scoring five goals in 33 games to help Athletic Club finish fourth in 2013/14.
Herrera has so far been capped by every age group with the Spanish national team except the senior side and he notably played alongside David De Gea and Juan Mata for the Under-21s. He also made three appearances for Spain’s Olympic team during the 2012 Games in England. With talk of a watershed for his country’s World Cup-winning midfielders after their early exit from Brazil 2014, Herrera’s full debut could soon arrive if he prospers at United.