Herrera Set For United Captain’s Armband?
Romelu Lukaku’s arrival at Manchester United will undoubtedly add a presence that Wayne Rooney has been unable to offer in recent seasons, but Rooney’s departure does leave one major vacancy at Old Trafford.
The role of club captain is a coveted position at United and the armband isn’t handed out readily at a club whose roster reads like a who’s who of legends, from Charlton to Robson, from Cantona to Keane. But is there a current stand out candidate fit to join such an illustrious list?
The inclination is to turn to Michael Carrick. The unsung midfielder has been an absolute stalwart for United and Alex Ferguson was eventually proved right when he ridiculed pundits who said that the £18.6m he gave to Tottenham for the England midfielder was way too much.
Eleven years and 314 appearances later, Carrick is one win short of completing an unlikely haul of trophies.
Should they overcome Real Madrid in the Super Cup in August, Carrick will have lifted every trophy possible in his time at United.
Champions League, Europa League, Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, Community Shield, World Club Cup. He’s won the lot. It would only be fitting that Carrick should be the one wearing the armband up the steps in Skopje to lift the trophy if that particular jigsaw gets completed.
But whether you agree or not, Carrick’s role as a United player is slowly but surely dwindling and drifting inexorably towards a coaching role. Last season he appeared in less than half of United’s league games, while he started only a third of their crucial knockout games in the Europa League when their whole season hung dangerously in the balance.
The other candidates aren’t exactly plentiful. Of the longest serving players at the club, Antonio Valencia’s English isn’t the greatest, Chris Smalling could be on the way out, Ashley Young and Phil Jones don’t play enough and Marouane Fellaini would be about as popular as a burger van at a Morrissey gig. David De Gea’s shelf life isn’t guaranteed either while Juan Mata only bettered Michael Carrick’s league appearances by one last season.
It leaves one other likely lad in the shape of diminutive barker of instructions Ander Herrera. The Bilbao native has impressed onlookers with a string of influential performances, including Gary Neville whose opinion on Herrera has evolved from “too nice and not brilliant” to “a fighter who gets the work done”.
Fans may have noticed a YouTube clip doing the rounds shortly after the Europa League Final of Herrera’s unheralded influence on the pitch.
With United holding only a slender 1-0 lead minutes into the 2nd half, they won a corner. As Juan Mata prepared to take it, the players were busy taking up position as per Jose Mourinho’s instructions. For whatever reason, the manager wanted Herrera in the box for corners, while Henrik Mkhitaryan was to sit in front of the centre circle to guard against counter attacks.
Quick thinking Herrera stepped in. Knowing that Mkhitaryan had already been booked for an earlier foul, Herrera decided his ability to defend a counter attack was limited. The Spaniard bellowed at Mkhitaryan to disobey Mourinho and go into the box, Herrera himself taking responsibility for being the guard dog in midfield should Ajax clear the corner and attack themselves.
A bemused Mourinho looked on as the corner was floated in and hooked into the net by Mkhitaryan, Herrera watching on from deep.
United may well have gone on to win the game 1-0 anyway, but Herrera’s intervention, by good luck or intuition, secured the win and United’s place in next season’s Champions League.
Had they lost, Lukaku would currently be holding aloft a blue shirt proclaiming Chelsea as the biggest club in the world and impossible to turn down. As it is, the Belgian is set to spearhead United’s attack as they return to Europe’s top table. But who leads them out remains a mystery.
Michael Carrick is now the elder statesman on the playing staff and nobody better deserves the title of club captain than the reliable midfielder who has just about won it all at United.
He is still fit, and unlike Rooney his performances are showing no sign of faltering. But as he looks set to be confined to more bench time next season, he’ll not be afraid to concede that Ander Herrera is the stand out leader on the pitch.