Manner of Ander Herrera’s Exit Reflects Distorted Priorities of United Owners

Sunday, 19 May, 2019 - 09:30
London- Barry Glendenning

While Ander Herrera’s decision to leave Manchester United has come as no great surprise to the club’s fans, the manner in which he announced his going has left many understandably enraged. In a saccharine sweet and emotional farewell video that will almost certainly be widely lampooned by more self-aware social media departments at football clubs elsewhere in the coming weeks, the softly spoken Spain midfielder left viewers in little or no doubt United will always have a special place in his heart and is a club he would be prepared to do absolutely anything for, except play. He is set to join Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer this summer having reportedly agreed a three-year deal worth £25m.

“I felt special when I heard my name chanted,” says Herrera, laying it on thick over a lovingly crafted montage of his personal highlights that includes a rival player stamping on his leg and his memorable shot from 20 yards that beat Yeovil’s goalkeeper Jed Steer at Huish Park in the FA Cup on a cold January afternoon in 2015. “I felt proud when the fans decided I was part of this incredible history. Every time I represented this club, in every game, in wins and losses, even when I couldn’t help from the grass, I understood what this club means.”

On that final point, he would appear to be in a minority, as the reaction to his announcement suggests put-upon United supporters are increasingly unsure what exactly it is the club they love “means”.

At the end of a week in which Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea qualified for European finals, it is not difficult to see how they would view Herrera’s decision to abandon them for pastures new, as yet unspecified and almost certainly more lucrative as yet another kick in the teeth at the end of a season that, by United’s standards, has been little short of disastrous. And yet, while some fans have accused Herrera of hypocrisy and double-speak for pulling at their heartstrings when he has lined up a massive pay-day elsewhere, most seem more irritated by the fact the video in which the 29-year-old bids them “adios” happens to star him rather than Chris Smalling, Phil Jones or Ashley Young.

While United remain a massive global brand with more corporate partners than you can wave a fistful of noodles at, on the field where it matters they have been left behind by their most bitter Premier League rivals. Following a honeymoon period that suggested Ole Gunnar Solskjær was the perfect man to be at the wheel following the dismissal of José Mourinho, recent results have prompted reservations that the Norwegian may have bitten off more than he can chew. Could his own tear-jerking farewell already be in the pre-production stage?

It is difficult not to feel sympathy for a young, relatively inexperienced manager who is being asked to embark on an epic overhaul with one hand tied behind his back by a club hierarchy whose player recruitment strategy, such as it is, is so obviously unfit for purpose when compared with those at Manchester City and Liverpool.

Put simply, the departure of a decent, dependable but otherwise fairly dispensable midfielder from United should not prompt so much handwringing and pearl-clutching among the club’s fans and the fact it has done exactly that speaks volumes. While the majority of the Old Trafford faithful seem reasonably happy to send Herrera on his way with their best regards, it is the circumstances that have enabled him to do so which have prompted fury.

At the beginning of this season, the club’s owners, the Glazer family, and the executive vice-president, Ed Woodward, were aware players such as Herrera, Young, Jones, Smalling, De Gea and Mata were all entering the final year or two of their contracts but seemed more obsessed with social media reach and corporate partnerships in far-flung destinations around the globe than devoting anything resembling urgency to tying these players down. Understood to have been unimpressed with their apparent reluctance to keep him, it is no surprise Herrera felt unappreciated and opted to move on.

His is not the first video produced by the Old Trafford propaganda wing to generate such public interest. In February last year, Woodward proudly boasted that the ludicrous production announcing the arrival of Alexis Sánchez “was the biggest United post on Instagram with two million likes and comments, the most shared United Facebook post ever, the most retweeted United post ever and the hashtag #Alexis7 was the number one trending topic on Twitter worldwide”. And to think there are still some dunderheads who would have you believe the Chile playmaker’s time at United has been unproductive.

But while Sánchez remains on the payroll, a stark and eye-wateringly expensive reminder of the folly for what passes as United’s increasingly inadequate recruitment policy, Herrera has played his last game and freed up a dressing-room peg. “I am going to remember each of the almost 200 matches that I have played with this jersey, because playing for the greatest club in England has been a true honor,” he said, in a farewell that, at the time of writing, had been seen almost five million times.

While United’s status as the greatest club in England is increasingly open to question under the stewardship of its current owners, one suspects those kind of viewing figures will make them very, very pleased indeed.

(The Guardian)

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