A year ago Ander Herrera had already said goodbye to Manchester United as he inched closer to a free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.
It was an unpopular move to let the fiery young Spaniard leave, and one he admits he was torn on.
Herrera said last month, via ESPN: “I have the best memories about the club, and I will never be able to give back all the love and affection that they gave to me in the last few years.”
He has gone onto win a league title with PSG, yet only as a bit-part player with just six Ligue 1 starts. From the outside, it looks like a hollow experience.
What was unclear at the time was United’s thought process behind letting Herrera go.
As Whoscored.com noted, United were statistically a better team with Herrera in the XI.
We had assumed at the time that United would compensate for Herrera’s absence by signing a top quality replacement.
This didn’t happen, making his departure look bizarre.
Where Herrera’s departure has begun to make more sense is United’s desire to get younger.
The club have fielded the youngest average line up in the Premier League this season. Herrera is 30.
Scott McTominay has taken up a more prominent role, and Fred has begun to thrive after a difficult first season at Old Trafford.
Had Herrera stayed, both McTominay and Fred would have played fewer games.
This was a season for United to build, with a view to next season, and the one after.
Herrera would have stunted the growth of both players had he stayed.
Fred is a player of the season contender, and McTominay would also have a strong claim had he not missed two months of action through injury.
It is also important to mention that in terms of wages, United were correctly not interested in matching PSG’s terms, a staggering £350,000 per week [Guardian].
One of the club key financial objectives is to trim the wage bill. Perhaps a middle ground with Herrera could have been found, we will never know how much finances played a part in his own decision.
What we do know is that letting Herrera leave on a free transfer was bad business, considering the club had paid £30 million for him in 2014.
United should never have let his contract run down in the way we did and allowed PSG to put their offer on the table.
His lack of action at PSG make their move appear poor value for money.
Direction over results
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s intent to build for the future and trust Fred and Scott McTominay has been promising.
There have been starts for James Garner in midfield too, and a spot is open for a new summer signing in the position, perhaps a Jack Grealish, or even longer term project like Jude Bellingham.
With Herrera in there too, it would have been more complicated.
But it also has to be asked, have United been a better team for letting Herrera leave?
The blunt answer to this, looking at results and performances this season, is no, we are not.
Results have been very inconsistent and our league points tally is embarrassingly low.
We are three points off fourth. Herrera would likely have helped turn a couple of draws into wins, or losses into draws.
He has been missed, and if we lose out on a Champions League spot it could be costly.
United took a gamble, and the intent behind it has become clearer. The jury is out on whether it was the right move to just let him walk away.
If Fred, Scott McTominay and another newly signed midfielder take a leap forward next season and United start challenging the top two, then the difficult steps taken this season will be seen as important in a crucial, transitional year.
Letting Herrera leave was a step back to take two forward. United just need to get the next part right.
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