BARCELONA, May 22 (Reuters) - Ander Herrera attracted admiration from the last four Manchester United managers, from being man-marked by Alex Ferguson to being scouted by David Moyes and signed by Louis Van Gaal, but it is under Jose Mourinho that the little Spaniard has truly thrived.
The Spain international pipped top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic and world record signing Paul Pogba to United’s Player of the Season award in his third campaign at the club, in which he has grown into one of Mourinho’s most loyal disciples.
Originally brought to United for the passing ability and vision he showed at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera has transformed into a defensive leader in midfield and will be responsible for shutting out Ajax in Wednesday’s Europa League final.
It will be his second appearance in a Europa League final after losing the 2012 edition with Athletic to Atletico Madrid 3-0 after a thrilling run to the showpiece that included beating United 5-3 on aggregate in the last 16.
Herrera had been one of the stars of the 3-2 win at Old Trafford in the first leg, leading Alex Ferguson to get Park Ji- Sung to man-mark him in the second leg, which he later said he understood as Ferguson’s highest compliment.
Yet Herrera found himself playing the role of destroyer in United’s 2-0 win over Chelsea in April, taking Eden Hazard out of the game to perfection as well as assisting Marcus Rashford’s opener before scoring the second.
That match-winning display was his best performance in a role he has grown into during the season and relished.
“The manager had a conversation and he told me I was going to be an important player if I do what he wanted me to do,” Herrera said in an interview with ESPN.
”I am always open to learning. I am always open to adapting myself to a new role and a new position. So I say to myself, if I want to play every game for Manchester United, which is my dream, I have to do something else for the club and the manager.
“I think we have a good understanding between the manager and myself. We understand football the same way and we think the same way. If you give everything, you are going to give things to the team.”
Herrera has shown his gratitude to Mourinho by repeatedly defending his manager in a difficult season, with the run to the Europa League final and the League Cup triumph the saving graces of a campaign that has fallen well short of expectations.
United supporters have also warmed to Herrera, who Ferguson’s successor Moyes tried to sign a year before Van Gaal swooped for him for £29 million in 2014.
The midfielder has conveyed a childlike enthusiasm for English football in his many appearances in the media, raving about FA Cup games at Cambridge United and constantly praising his side’s fervent away support.
After winning the FA Cup and League Cup, he now has his eyes on the one trophy United have never won, with another fallen European giant in Ajax standing in the way.
“We can make history for the club, so that’s the only thing I have in my mind,” he added. “Always respecting the opponent because they want to make history, as well. But I don’t have anything else in my mind apart from winning the final and trying to get the trophy for this club.” (Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Mark Heinrich)