A long time coming

Ander Herrera never being capped by Spain’s senior side is something that has often been brought up whenever the squad is announced before qualifiers and friendlies. It was nothing to be ashamed for the Basque midfielder, though, as the strength in depth and abundance of quality in the middle of the park for La Roja can be matched by no other nation. But finally, after a fine start to the season under Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, Herrera has got what he so desires, and he thoroughly deserves it, albeit via injuries to Javi Martinez, Thiago Alcantara and Saul Niguez.

Having represented La Rojita from Under-20 level upwards and scoring two goals as the Under-21s won the 2011 European U21 Championship, it was always expected that a call-up to Vicente del Bosque’s side would be on the cards. That is not always the way it works, however, and perhaps the current Spain Coach’s previous involvement in the youth set-up has contributed to Herrera’s selection. Julen Lopetegui has never trained the 27-year-old but will be familiar with his characteristics and the type of player that he is, having shared the same training pitches at Las Rozas.

Herrera’s career at United seems to have stopped and started since he signed for the club from Athletic Bilbao in 2014. Louis van Gaal’s tenure did not exactly aid his development. It was clear that the Dutchman did not fully trust him, and after decent spells as a starter, he would always seem to be dropped again.

If last season was a dark, bitterly cold winter’s night for Herrera, then the start to this one has been a bright and balmy summer day. Mourinho seems to have warmed to an extremely-enthusiastic character, who has a thirst for learning and improving. The knee-slide that came with his goal in the EFL Cup against Northampton Town seemed like a bit of an overreaction to some but nonetheless showed his pride and passion for a game that he loves to play.

Herrera started the first Premier League game of 2016-17 against Bournemouth in a deep-lying playmaker role, a clear indication of where his new Coach saw him playing. His tenacity and endless bursts of energy suit this position, and that showed when he came off the bench in the Manchester derby, making an impact on the game and giving United more superiority in midfield, even if the result stayed the same.

After Marouane Fellaini’s performances started to dip, a Paul Pogba-Herrera midfield partnership was tested against Leicester City. The pair showed encouraging signs in a 4-1 win, and despite a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Stoke City last weekend, Herrera impressed again. Old Trafford’s Stretford End could be heard signing his name at various points of the match, proving that his start to the campaign has served to cement his place as a fans’ favourite in Manchester.

For Spain, Herrera will not be a starter, but his chance to impose himself on the colours of his country has finally arrived in the coming matches against Italy and Albania. If he performs in the way he has done for his club recently then he should do just that.