The transfer window can be an unsettling time for Athletic Club. While many clubs can scour the world for new stars in the hope of improving, the Bilbao-based side must cast their net over the comparatively small Basque region.
Of course this leaves them at a distinct disadvantage, yet as one of the three sides to have never been relegated from La Liga alongside Real Madrid and Barcelona, it has never proved much of an obstacle.
However, when Athletic are forced to move key players on and are generally left with a respectable fee, there is a pool of players generally devoid of ‘star quality’ in which to find a replacement. For this reason arguably their best deal of the summer has been keeping Ander Herrera.
Premier League champions Manchester United spent much of the last five days of the transfer window chasing the 24-year-old and are said to have tabled one bid before pondering meeting his €36m release clause.
Amid speculation of ‘bureaucratic problems’, apparent imposters and Herrera’s supposed willingness to take a pay-cut to force through a move, United reportedly tried to negotiate the player’s release clause, a figure written into his contract.
United’s credibility will have been shot due to this debacle but Athletic will be quietly relieved everything fell through. Had the former Spain Under-21 international left, the Primera Division club would have received a huge transfer fee, but what would they have done with it?
According to the precedent set by Rivaldo’s move from Deportivo to Barcelona in 1997 and as was the case last summer in Javi Martinez’s departure to Bayern Munich, Athletic would have been given a further 30 days to sign a Spain-based replacement for Herrera, if his release clause had been met.
But with every club knowing Athletic had received a handsome sum from United, the Basques would likely have been held to ransom for even the most modest of targets while the rest of the money was left to burn a hole in the club’s pocket. One can safely assume the replacement would have been a downgrade too.
Overall, the best outcome for Athletic in this fiasco was to keep a hold of their man. Last season Herrera made 90 tackles in the League, seven more than the combined total of Premier League trio Frank Lampard, Jack Wilshere and Yaya Toure, while he also boasted a respectable pass completion percentage of 81.
Herrera’s combative nature, ability in possession and all-round technical ability make him perfect for the Premier League, but luckily for Athletic Coach Ernesto Valverde, he will remain for the time being, as a midfield partnership with Benat begins to take shape.
United could potentially come back in for Herrera in the future and if they pay €36m then there is little Athletic can do about it, but considering he appeared to be out of the door on Monday, keeping him at least until January represents something of a bonus.