'I study Scholes - I have a lot to learn from him' - Ander Herrera
Ander Herrera's passion for football shines through everything he does and says, whether enthusing about Manchester United or his beloved Real Zaragoza, whether coaching a group of schoolgirls at Old Trafford this week or debating fans' issues.
It is easy to see why the 25-year-old midfielder has become so popular so quickly with United supporters since signing for £29m from Athletic Bilbao last summer. It is not only Herrera's substantial impact when given a chance by Louis van Gaal, playing his clever forward passes, scoring five times, giving everything for the team, even clearing off the line. Herrera has also been embraced because he is a model professional who thinks like a fan.
Eloquent in English, the Spaniard occasionally slipped into his native tongue during this interview, specifically using "ilusion" to explain his hopes and dreams. "The word 'ilusion' is a little bit different to 'illusion' in English. 'Ilusion' for me is like when I dream. I like to dream, to imagine how good it would be to win something here at United, to play Champions League at Old Trafford. I love football. I'm a crazy football guy.
"My passion is football. Once when my mum made me a present of a toy car, I said: 'Thank you, mum, but I don't want it. I want football shirts, boots, kit.' My mum still has a big bag with shirts from all the teams in all the world.''
The youngster acquired these when his father, Pedro Maria Herrera, a former player working as technical secretary at Zaragoza, was on scouting missions abroad. "When my dad was travelling to Argentina, I said: 'Dad, get me a shirt from Independiente, River Plate or Boca Juniors.' My dad had to do it. My heart is from Real Zaragoza but I love everything football.''
Zaragoza features frequently in Herrera's conversation. "I'm a little bit of a footballing romantic. You have to support your local team - always. My idols were Gus Poyet and Nayim. You can admire players from the biggest teams but my idols were from Real Zaragoza. They were my team, are my team, and will be my team always. You can change your wife, you can change your girlfriend but you cannot change your football team.
"My dad played 200 games in the first division in Spain but not in very big clubs - Real Zaragoza, Celta Vigo and Salamanca. When I was young my dad worked in Real Zaragoza, as technical secretary. He had to watch games and sometimes when he was travelling, watching another game, he called me when I was six or seven. 'Ander, can you look at Manchester United v Everton. Look at the No 7.' I put the TV on at home, watched this game and after I told my dad 'I like this player' or 'I don't like that player'. I give you that game as an example! Real Zaragoza couldn't sign players from Manchester United!"
Herrera is admirably frank. "I speak what I feel. I don't like when I hear my team-mates or players talking like 'I feel good, the game was difficult, but we have to improve'. That's normal. We can give something more for people. Every game we have 80,000 people in Old Trafford and away, 4,000, 5,000 and they want something more from us. They want our feelings.
"My passion is football but I started to study journalism. If you ask me if my future is going to be as a sports journalist, I say 'no!' If I didn't play football, I'd maybe do travel journalism like National Geographic. I follow National Geographic on Instagram. One of the things I'd like to do after football is travel as much as possible. Africa is one of the continents I'd like to visit a lot. I'd like to do a safari.''
Herrera has hinterland and a conscience. He enjoyed helping out at a Manchester United Foundation event on Monday, joining Radamel Falcao for a coaching session of pupils from Astley Sports College, Dukinfield, on a small pitch next to the car-park in the shadow of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand. As the statue of the great man looked down, Herrera and Falcao ignored the howling gale to conduct some drills, aiming to encourage more girls aged 14 and older to play football.
Afterwards, the pair walked into the Salford Suite for a Q and A with the pupils. Herrera leant forward in his chair, listening intently to each question, before telling them that his "dream came true" when United signed him, that the player he admires most is "Lionel Messi", giving a polite "sorry" to any "Cristiano Ronaldo fans" in the room, and also predicting how Adnan Januzaj will "become a very important player for the club".
Herrera liked the interaction. "Football is for fans,'' he continued, returning to the interview. "In England, you all are doing very, very well for fans. When I arrived, I saw there are no televised games at 3pm on Saturday so lower-division teams don't suffer from the live game of a top club. It's perfect.
"I was surprised when we had to wait 30 minutes for the game with Cambridge to start because their fans were delayed. That was fantastic. In Spain, games can be 11pm, sometimes on Monday. It's not normal for kids. Kids have to go to school. In England, fans are put first. In Spain, fans are not put first. I hope it can be better in the next years."
He's delighted that United fans have taken to him. "They remember the Europa League games!'' smiled Herrera, recalling Athletic Bilbao's home-and-away triumph in 2012. "We played very, very well. But now I think they respect me because I want to work, I want to play for United as much as possible.'' (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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