Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Ander Herrera has lifted the lid on why he walked away from Manchester United last summer after five years at Old Trafford.
Despite being a regular part of the team under both José Mourinho and successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Herrera declined to extend his contract and instead opted to seal a free transfer to the French giants.
Herrera sat down with The Athletic to reminisce about his time in Manchester, and here's what he had to say.
On His Choice to Leave
Herrera's departure came as a bit of a surprise as he had been so important to United's recovery under Solskjaer, but many fans chose to believe that the Spaniard was only interested in money when he opted for a move to PSG.
“It was not about money,” Herrera insisted. “It was not about the duration of the contract offer. In my opinion, I waited too long (for an offer) and deserved more attention from the club. I was a player that gave everything. I never complained. I never went to the media to complain about anything. I never put a bad face to any manager, to any member of the board, and they waited until I had five or six months left on my contract.
“That’s why I had some disagreements with them. I tell you this but I also tell you that it is part of football, part of life, nothing personal at all. But you ask the question and I give my point of view, as a professional player.
"I thought they were going to come two years before my contract finished, like most other clubs do. I expected them to come to sign a new contract after my club Player of the Year award in 2017 but they waited until I had six months left on my contract. I just felt sad."
On What Went Wrong for José Mourinho
Mourinho's United infamously collapsed in the first half of the 2018/19 season, leading to the boss' departure in December 2018.
“It is true the last six months was a bit different,” Herrera said. “Because he had some disagreements with the club and the team was a bit, you know… when you see your manager has some confrontations with the club, you do not perform the same way. It is true. Everything affects the training session, everything affects the daily work.
"Something was happening between him and the club (during the pre-season tour of the US). But I was just a player. I am no one to tell you or find out what happened (between them). I was just trying to do my job. But it is true, the same as you saw at that time, we were seeing the same. Something was happening between him and the club.”
On Man-Marking Eden Hazard
Perhaps the most memorable moment of Herrera's United tenure came in April 2017 during a 2-0 win over Chelsea, in which Herrera man-marked Eden Hazard into the ground while simultaneously contributing to both goals.
“José and I both knew Hazard was the best player, by far, in the Premier League at the time, so if we wanted to win that game, we needed him not to touch the ball, or at least as little as possible," he explained. "That’s what we agreed.
"I said, ‘Jose, I am ready if you need me to man-mark him, to follow him everywhere. If he wants to go to the bathroom, I will go with him because I want to win the game’. The most important thing in football is that my team wins, because then I go to sleep happy. It does not matter what you have to do, as long as you respect the rules and don’t do anything illegal.”
On Paul Pogba
Because he's a former United player, it's literally against the law for Herrera to not talk about Paul Pogba, who Herrera once described as an 'NBA athlete with Brazilian feet'.
“But I would add something else,” Herrera explained. “‘An NBA athlete with Brazilian feet and the combinations of a Spanish midfielder’. He can combine really well — he can do one-two, very quick at high speed. He does have a good attitude.
“I give you my opinion: I don’t know what other players say but he is a midfielder that has everything. If you see other midfielders in the world, they may have some qualities — control of the ball, long shots, passes, tackles, box-to-box — but Paul can do all of this, plus head the ball, score goals, make recoveries, one against one...everything.
“But of course, if you want to become the best midfielder in the world, it is about consistency. You have to do it day in, day out. He is a good guy. He wants to do it. He does train well. He has to do it every day.”