Ligue 1 The Spaniard spoke to MARCA
Paris Saint-Germain have signed Ander Herrera as they continue their pursuit of European glory and the Spaniard believes he’ll be working with both Kylian Mbappe and Neymar in the 2019/20 season.
Amongst other topics, he spoke about his exit from Manchester United and his chances of returning to the Spain team.
What sort of memories will playing at the Parc des Princes conjure up?
“It means a lot to me. Even though I was only a child, I remember the UEFA Cup of 1995, it’s something that all Real Zaragoza fans are aware of. That goal by Nayim makes this day even more special for me.”
You’ve represented Real Zaragoza, Athletic Club, Manchester United and now PSG, did you always dream of such a career?
“No, not at all. My dream when I was young was to play for Real Zaragoza, I didn’t look any further than that. Circumstances led me to play for three other great clubs and I’ve been very happy.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seemed to love you, why did you decide to leave Manchester United?
“I don’t like looking to the past too much, but there were differences regarding the project and my importance within it. I was very happy there, I have a lot to thank the club, fans and Solskjaer for. He did a lot to convince me to stay, but things didn’t happen like that. Their offer arrived late and by then I had already made the decision to play in Paris. I’m very happy today because I made that decision. I’m enjoying this magnificent city and this beautiful stadium, it has a glamour that few can match.”
At Old Trafford you won one FA Cup, one League Cup, one Charity Shield, one Europa League and the club’s Player of the Year award for the 2016/17 season, how do you assess your time in England?
“It was a fantastic part of my career. In five years I played 189 matches and I had been important for all the coaches. It’s true that the Player of the Year award makes you feel very special and very happy, but I learned something from every coach. I am left with every moment that I got to experience in Manchester.”
I imagine you received many offers, why did you choose PSG?
“When you’re at a club as big as United, the biggest club in England, you can only leave them for something similar, the biggest club in France. PSG are a team that are in continuous development and they’re growing all the time. Furthermore, it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I had the opportunity to visit as a tourist and I fell in love, now I get the chance to represent the team. This team has a very high ceiling and some of the best players in the world. I have enjoyed my time at United a lot, I feel something special for the club and I didn’t want to represent another English team.”
In every transfer window you’re linked with Athletic Club, did you have an offer to return to LaLiga Santander?
“Yes, there were talks, but there was no firm proposal.”
Who convinced you to sign for PSG?
“I talked to the coach mainly, but of course there is the allure of the project in general. I spoke with the sporting director, with Maxwell and with other people within the club. Di Maria spoke glowingly about the club and I already had positive references from Zlatan, but it doesn’t take a lot to be convinced to come here. When you know this club a little bit and see how it is growing, what they have done in recent years, it’s an easy decision.”
What has Thomas Tuchel asked of you?
“The coach knows what I am, a team player willing to help out at any time. I always put my qualities forward for the good of the team. I have been important for each and every coach I’ve had in my career and that’s how it will continue to be. I think that PSG have some of the possible future Ballon d’Or winners and I think I am a player who can help these big players improve even further. I love football, I love what I do. I think I have the most beautiful job in the world and I’m going to try and extend that for as long as possible. I take care of myself and I’m a good professional. I want to learn and keep growing and I remember a conversation I had with [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan about how Tuchel improves players. I’m 29 years old and have been in professional football a long time, but I still want to improve. I don’t think that footballers ever stop improving, I think I’ll be a better player at 35 than I am right now.”
What do you think you can improve on?
“Everything. I can score more goals, work harder, recover more loose balls. The older you get, the better you understand the game. You have a better understanding of what the team needs in any given moment, I don’t prioritise one or two particular aspects of my game, I want to improve in every way.”
You’ve played as a playmaker, an inside right, a central midfielder and a defensive midfielder, but in what position are you most comfortable?
“I have no preference for a specific position. It depends on the type of match, which opponent we’re facing. If you face a team that presses then it’s always better to be more withdrawn because you participate in the game more. If the opponent is exposed then you have more chances when playing as a No.8, arriving late into the penalty area. I’ve never been selfish in this sense, I’ve always tried to adapt to what the team has needed at any moment.”
You’ve played in the Spanish top flight and the Premier League, how do you think you’ll adapt to a league as physical as the French Ligue 1?
“I don’t believe in myths, especially not where leagues are concerned. I don’t think too much about whether LaLiga is the best from a technical standpoint or whether the Premier League is the toughest physically. I believe that good players are good players in all countries, and that if you adapt to the coach you’re working with and put the good of the team first then good things will follow. I like to play football, I don’t care which position, I like being on the pitch and feeling useful for every coach I’ve had.”
Do you think signing for PSG brings you a little closer to the dream of returning to the national team with Robert Moreno?
“Representing my country is a dream. I had the opportunity to do it and now I’m going to try and give the best of myself to PSG, which is the most important thing as they are the club which has bet on me. They’ve signed me for the next five years and time will tell whether I get to play for Spain again. If I do then I’d be delighted, of course. As a Spaniard and football lover, I think we have the best players, but we also have the best youth academies. At the moment France are the world champions, but I always defend football and I believe Spain produces the best footballers in terms of reliability and professionalism. I believe that if I’m a regular and play well, I will get this chance.”
Frenkie de Jong says he can’t wait to play with Lionel Messi, but which of your new teammates are you especially excited to link up with?
“Everyone. Starting with the players who have an incredible level and experience, like Thiago Silva, also Marquinhos who has had an exceptional career despite being so young. I’m going to play alongside one of my favourite players, Marco Verratti, who is spectacular as a midfielder. He always thinks about the team first too which I like. Then there are the different players like Di Maria, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, as well as a No.9 who is probably the best in the world like Edinson Cavani. I think it’s a good group and I’m here to contribute to make them better.”
A Herrera-Verratti pairing sounds fantastic. Playing well and also doing the dirty work?
“Yes, but there is also Leandro Paredes who plays very well and I loved him at this Copa America. There are guys from the youth academy that will contribute, as well as Marquinhos having the potential to play in midfield, which he did really well last year. It’s not about eight or 12 players, it’s a squad game and you only have to look at the example set by Liverpool. They were European champions due to their squad, everyone contributed. Just look at Divock Origi who was instrumental in the semi-final. I believe in teams and I believe in projects that are built around a team. Of course, when you have some of the best players in the world, everything comes easier.”
Do you believe Mbappe and Neymar will remain at PSG for next season?
“Yes, I believe so.”
How would you convince Neymar and Mbappe to stay?
“I just arrived, and when I get to a new place I tend to talk as little as possible and listen a lot. I want to soak up everything that happens. Firstly, I’m going to think about working and improving day by day, respecting my colleagues who have important careers and hopefully I can play with them.”
Mbappe surpasses the numbers set by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi at the same age, do you think he can reach their level?
“Time will tell. Today, in terms of numbers, he exceeds them, but one of the things I admire about both Messi and Cristiano is their continuity. They are reliable year after year. That’s very difficult to do and they’re always decisive. Mbappe has everything needed to get there, but time will tell if he manages to maintain it consistently, if he does then we may be looking at the next big player of the next 10 to 15 years.”
What do you think when you see Neymar play?
“I love watching Neymar. He’s a different player, one who makes a difference. He has that as well as an understanding of the game, the two most important aspects of football. When I see him play, I enjoy it, he’s amazing. I have had to suffer him as an opponent but now will be able to enjoy him as a teammate.”
What have PSG been missing to win the Champions League?
“First of all, I think that every season there are eight to 10 teams who dream of winning the Champions League. Only one can win it, but that doesn’t mean the rest have failed. In terms of league titles, PSG aren’t yet the number one in France either. That’s why my first priority is to help PSG continue to dominate the domestic league, hopefully we can continue being the strongest team and then add the two domestic cups. In the Champions League we must approach it game by game, try to beat our first opponent and then the second and so on. Of the teams that will participate in the tournament next season, Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Inter, everyone wants to win it, but not everyone can. You can’t judge the success of a season based on the Champions League alone. I also believe a lot in the value of the process and the way in which you do things, something I learned from Marcelo Bielsa.”
David de Gea has been linked to PSG, would you like to be reunited with him in Paris?
“David is my friend, I have a great relationship with him, and he is one of the best in the world, for me he is one of the top three. However, there are already two great goalkeepers here, Alphonse Areola, who is growing a lot, and now Kevin Trapp is returning after a great year with Eintracht Frankfurt. Firstly, it’s important to respect the people who are already here and I expect Areola and Trapp to have a great season.”
With Eden Hazard already signed by Real Madrid and the club also wanting Paul Pogba, what do you believe they could contribute?
“I’m only focused on PSG, but I have already given my opinion on them both on other occasions. Hazard is the best player I faced in my five years in England and Paul has all the qualities to become one of the best midfielders in the world.”
Wayne Rooney described Louis van Gaal as the best coach he’d worked with, but who is the coach who has left the biggest influence on you?
“Louis van Gaal is a coach who improved me. I played a lot of football with him, perhaps 70 or so matches in two seasons. I was very useful for him and I have fond memories of him. Perhaps the two coaches who have left the most with me are Marcelo Bielsa and Ernesto Valverde. Ernesto knows how to adapt perfectly to an individual player, he knows when to push you and when to let go, I have a lot of admiration for him.”
Speaking of coaches, will you form a partnership with Juan Mata one day? What role would each of you hold?
“As for the partnership with Mata, we’ve talked about this for a long time. I think we understand football in a similar way, but maybe I’m a little more intense than he is, a little more passionate at times. Perhaps we could form a pairing and he would be a calming influence on me. Time will tell, but he’s a friend for life and I’m fortunate to have found that in my career. We believe that football is a team sport and something where we all have to do our bit to achieve the team’s objectives. In any case, I don’t know if I’ll be a coach because I think it’s a very difficult position, we’ll see what happens.”