Manchester United and Ander Herrera remain locked in a contract standoff and it looks increasingly likely that the Old Trafford fan favourite will be leaving as a free agent in June.
It would be a tremendous shame for the club to lose a player with great personality and professionalism, someone who appears to have genuinely bought into United more than most, who many once saw as the next club captain, and who often has his best game against direct rivals like Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea.
This is also an individual who has spoken glowingly about what it meant to him to play at Old Trafford for the first time when he visited with Athletic in the Europa League in 2012. Herrera was pivotal that night as the Basque club won 3-2 on their way to knocking United out.
That performance was perhaps the moment he became a transfer target. There was a botched effort to sign him in the summer of 2013, before a £29m deal went through the following year.
Impressively, Herrera is the only individual other than David de Gea in the last five seasons to have won the club’s Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award, voted for by fans.
Having been surprisingly dropped by Jose Mourinho last season, Herrera’s energy and harassing of opponents in midfield made him a key player once more as United upped their intensity under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and turned around what was fast becoming a disastrous campaign.
His future at the club is not a closed subject. Just this week Herrera told Diario ABC in Spain, “I will listen to United, of course, but also to other clubs. I don’t close any doors.”
But he also noted that, for now, at least, ‘Manchester and I are not thinking alike’.
It points to the only way to end the deadlock is United compromising and offering the player more than they are willing to, perhaps getting close to something like the £150,000-per-week long-term deal he is rumoured to have been offered by French giants Paris Saint-Germain.
Herrera’s existing salary was reported last month to be £75,000-per-week. Assuming the stories are accurate, even if United are offering him an improved figure to sign a new deal, his supposed demands would see the club have to double or even nearly treble what he currently earn.
And therein lies the biggest problem.
There can be no questioning Herrera’s professionalism, attitude or desire to succeed, but he arguably lacks the innate quality that would make him an automatic starter every game in a team with genuine ambitions of winning the Premier League and Champions League.
That isn’t to say that he isn’t good enough for United. But his prolonged place at the club is that of a dependable squad rotation player. What it therefore boils down to is a B+ player, who will turn 30 in August, asking for an A+ salary. Giving in to that is not a good way to run a club.
As far as Herrera is concerned, he backs himself as a top player and is probably well aware of the money he could potentially command on the open market, and that is fair. But United cannot justify paying so much to someone who isn’t a superstar and lacks long-term potential.
As things stand, it is reported that Luke Shaw (£195k), Romelu Lukaku (£200k), Anthony Martial (£250k), Paul Pogba (£290k) and Alexis Sanchez (£500k after bonuses) are the only United players who earn more than £140,000 each week. Sanchez aside, all the outfield players are aged 25 or younger, while De Gea is recognised as the best in the world in his position.
Herrera would be very much the odd one out if he were to join them on similar money.
The Sanchez deal was a mistake and has been damaging to United. Not only has the Chilean failed to justify his own big contract, the fact that the club is paying him so much has set a precedent for all future contract negotiations, both existing players and prospective signings.
Knowing what Sanchez takes home, Herrera and others are within their right to ask for more.
Unfortunately for one of the most popular United players of the last decade, it likely now means the end of his time at Old Trafford, and it is with a heavy heart that fans will bid him farewell.