Ander Herrera has sent a message of gratitude to Gary Neville for helping to change his approach at Manchester United this season.
Neville noted soon after Herrera’s arrival from Athletic Bilbao in 2014 that the Spaniard came across as “too nice” to succeed as a Man United midfielder.
The 27-year-old, over the last nine months, has quickly morphed into an indispensable midfield asset under Jose Mourinho and deservedly claimed the Player of the Year award last week.
And Herrera, reflecting on Neville’s comments, noted that he used them as a source of motivation going forward.
“I don’t know what he means when he says “nice”! I think, in my first two seasons, I try to work very hard for the team,” he said.
“I played 71 games for the team, so that’s important, as well. But of course, this season I made one step forward. Also my role in the team has changed.
“But I think everyone knows, and Gary Neville knows, that with confidence you perform better. I am very thankful also to him because I really appreciate what he said about me. And I know he’s a Manchester United fan, so I tell him the same as I tell everyone: I will not stop here.
“The manager had a conversation and told me I was going to be an important player if I do what he wanted me to do. I am always open to learning. I am always open to adapting myself to a new role and a new position.”
If you happened to have no knowledge of football and met Herrera, you wouldn’t imagine for a second that he earned his living through bombastically clattering into – and indeed dominating – people often far bigger than him. The Spaniard, in person, is remarkably genial and endearing – the sensible one on a night out, you feel.
But there is a nasty side to all of us, and Herrera has used his to devastating effect this season. He has conquered United’s midfield this season, and the only way seems to be up – perhaps even as high as the captaincy – over the next year or so.