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In appreciation of Ander Herrera and his classical Mancunian spirit

It’s always the ones you least expect, isn’t it?

Back in 2014 few fans would have picked Man United’s new baby-faced signing as the one player who would go on to embody the club’s spirit more than any other squad member not named Wayne Rooney.

But that’s exactly what Ander Herrera has become.

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Drawing equal influence from Andres Iniesta and Nicky Butt (the man himself named the Class of 92 member as one of his role models), the 27-year-old midfielder has been one of Jose Mourinho’s most consistent performers this season.

He may not be a blockbuster as Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Paul Pogba but Herrera’s blend of culture and cruelty have made him an Old Trafford favourite, and deservedly so.

Rarely have we seen a man-marking job as comprehensive as one he did on Eden Hazard.

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The Belgian is the closest thing the Premier League has to Lionel Messi, an irrepressible dribbler capable of retiring defenders with a single change of direction.

And yet, when Herrera removes his keys and wallet as he gets home this evening, he may find Hazard still nestled safely in his pocket.

The beauty of Herrera is that his football is as good as his anti-football.

A Spain international is obligated to feel comfortable with the ball at his feet and must hold dear the belief that passing is just as much a necessity of life as breathing.

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His throughball for Marcus Rashford’s goal against Chelsea was the ultimate contrast to his nullification of Hazard’s threat.

It’s this balance that makes him the perfect fit for a club like United.

A Roy Keane-like desire to get under the opposition’s skin and Paul Scholes’ penchant for sparking attacks.

And make no mistake, he loves the club.

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Herrera paid his own buyout clause to force through his £29million departure from Athletic Bilbao after United had been alerted to his qualities in a Europa League tie.

Bilbao beat United 5-3 on aggregate as Herrera took control of the midfield against the likes of Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs.

Curiously enough, the second leg in Bilbao was Paul Pogba’s one and only European appearance for United during his first spell with the club.

These days Carrick and Pogba line up alongside Herrera in a midfield that has made Mourinho’s men very difficult to beat.

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Herrera thrives in intense situations.

He endeared himself to fans in 2015 when he coaxed Steven Gerrard into getting sent off just 38 seconds after coming on as a substitute at Anfield.

A modern legend comes on in English football’s biggest fixture at one of the most atmospheric grounds in Europe and Herrera wastes not a second in sliding in late and drawing a reaction from an emotionally charged Gerrard.

How could United fans not love him?

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His love of intense football has led to a fascination with Boca Juniors.

In 2016 Herrera revealed he would love to play for the Argentine side one day and experience the ‘Superclasico’ against River Plate.

His dad has recruited several players from Boca in his role as a director at Real Zaragoza, a club he also wishes to return to at some point before retirement.

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Changes in formation trends over the last 15 years have seen centre-midfielders divided up into spoilers and creators.

You’re either an N’Golo Kante or a Mesut Ozil.

Ander Herrera is a well-timed throwback to the well-rounded centre-mids of old.

And with United set to offer him a new £120,000-a-week contract, fans can expect to see more match-defining performances for many seasons to come.

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