Ander Herrera was instrumental in Manchester United’s 2-0 win at Chelsea in the FA Cup, and it was not for the first time this season.
The Spaniard has become a crucial player under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s management, demonstrating leadership, composure and tenacity in central midfield.
Solskjaer has given Herrera a key role in the team, partnering Nemanja Matic to permit Paul Pogba to roam further forward and not worry about defending as much.
It’s worked a treat, and much of that is down to Herrera’s performances. But could the 29-year-old be given more responsibility?
Antonio Valencia is the club’s current skipper and Ashley Young wore the armband on Monday but calls for Herrera to be handed the captain’s armband were strengthened yet again following the victory at Stamford Bridge.
Below, we’ve had a look back at all the times Herrera has proved he should be Manchester United captain.
1. Singling out Sanchez
Love how Ander Herrera went over to Alexis at full time. He mentioned post match how impressed he was with how hard Alexis Sanchez worked when he came on. Alexis is having a hard time and Ander Herrera being a leader and motivating him is brilliant. Has to be our next captain! pic.twitter.com/jzjeclp6DR
— The Man Utd Way (@TheManUtdWay) February 18, 2019
It’s safe to say Alexis Sanchez has had a difficult time since joining United from Arsenal in January last year, but Herrera has been immensely supportive of the Chilean regardless.
After the final whistle at Stamford Bridge on Monday, Herrera was spotted giving Sanchez a pep talk and congratulating the substitute for his cameo performance.
In his post-patch interview, Herrera said: “When you play with these kind of players you can make that run [for the goal] you know you’re going to get the ball.
“But I would also like to speak about Alexis, Andreas (Pereira) and Scott (McTominay) the way they came into the game. And a world-class player like Alexis. The way he fought, this is Manchester United and it is what you want.”
Vocally backing players who have been struggling is the sign of a born leader, and Solskjaer will surely have been given food for thought by Herrera’s words.
2. Proving he has no ego
Despite onlookers constantly suggesting Herrera should be made captain, the former Athletic Bilbao midfielder sees no reason he can’t lead on the pitch without the armband.
He told ESPN: “To be honest, I’ve been told a lot of times that I should wear the armband on the field, but I don’t need it… if one day the team needs me to lead in one specific moment, then I will do.
“But I don’t go crazy with that. I think that the best thing a team can have is different leaders in different moments.”
Herrera did lead the team out during United’s pre-season tour of the US last summer, but again he insisted the captaincy is not necessary for him to make an impact, demonstrating his lack of ego.
“I am really proud to have been the Manchester United captain,” he told the club’s official website. “But even if I am not the captain, I am proud anyway. As soon as I represent this club, I feel proud and I always give my best.”
3. Selfless and relentless
Herrera has a drive to improve and a refusal to give up, but that relentlessness doesn’t veer into the realm of selfishness. Instead, he cares more about the team than his own achievements.
At the beginning of the 2016/17 season, Herrera said: “I can make mistakes because I am human but what I am not going to do is give up. Never.”
His drive is admirable but perhaps more so is his commitment to the team. Indeed, Herrera has spoken in the past of his willingness to sit on the bench if it is the best thing for United.
“One day the manager decides to put me on the bench, I will be ready to help the team from the bench. It’s our job,” Herrera said, according to Goal.
“We represent the greatest club in England so we cannot be selfish. We have to try to help the team.”
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4. Taking one for the team
His commitment to the group ethic can sometimes edge into objectionable territory, but that’s something United fans have come to expect of their captains, particularly since Roy Keane wore the armband.
During United’s 2-1 win over Everton in the 2016 FA Cup semi-final, Herrera showcased his nasty streak by pulling an opposition player to the floor when the Toffees were breaking up-field.
In was an unethical act, no doubt, but Herrera is happy to take bookings and red cards for the team if it improves the chances of winning.
United went on to beat Everton thanks to Martial’s injury-time winner, assisted by Herrera, and eventually lifted the FA Cup by overcoming Crystal Palace in the final – that foul was potentially a vital contribution.
5. The man for the big occasion
Speaking of vital contributions, Herrera’s mentality allows him to be unfazed in high-pressure situations.
That mentality has resulted in Herrera coming up with some important goals for United. His opener against Chelsea on Monday, for example, set the Red Devils on their way to an impressive victory.
Last season, he scored the winning goal in United’s 2-1 win over Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final.
For a player who rarely finds the net, Herrera has certainly provided United with some important strikes.
6. Taunting rivals
Herrera isn’t afraid to anger the fan bases of United’s rivals, especially Liverpool and Manchester City.
Last summer, he claimed Manchester City’s record-breaking Premier League season was a one-off, telling the Telegraph: “I think this season was an exception.”
If that comment can be read as honest rather than incendiary, his taunting of Liverpool in January 2017 is far more cut and dry as an effort to rile up Liverpool supporters.
He said: “We know our history. I know Sir Alex changed the history of this rivalry because, when he came, Liverpool were a long way ahead, in terms of titles.
“But after Ferguson’s time here, now we are ahead – and clearly ahead – so I know what it means to our fans.”
Knowing which rivalries matter to the fans is important for any captain, and Herrera has shown an exemplary understanding.
7. Understanding the fans
Rivalries are one thing for a captain to understand, but he must also have a grasp on what is expected by the supporters – again, Herrera gets it.
“I think the fans have the same view [as me],” he said last summer, according to the Mirror. “I can play sometimes good, sometimes not as good but the only thing I try to do is give everything.
“That’s what our fans want. They can forgive you if you miss a pass or make a mistake but as long as you give everything, that is what they want to watch.”
With such a full comprehension of what the United fans are hungry for, it’s easy to see why Herrera is being tipped to take the captaincy from Valencia. Whether it will happen remains to be seen.