Manchester United’s three Spanish players David de Gea, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera have all been written off at some point during their Old Trafford careers. Whether they have been criticised for performances, expected to leave when new management have arrived or had questions asked as to whether they can adapt their game to English football, these Spaniards have proven the doubters wrong and, in their own individual ways, have become Red Devil favourites and are all an integral part of Jose Mourinho’s team.
David de Gea was the first of the three Spanish stars to join the Old Trafford club in 2011 for £17.8million. He was bought by Sir Alex Ferguson as a replacement for Edwin Van der Sar but, in his first few months with The Red Devils, he was criticised by the press and doubts were cast over whether he could adapt to the English game after some nervy moments in goal and his struggles with dealing with crosses and set pieces. It was early days for the former Atletico Madrid star, but already he was being dubbed a flop and a dubious signing by the Scotsman.
The turnaround for de Gea has been quite spectacular. It is hard to believe this player was panned and questioned by the media and pundits when now he could easily be named the best goalkeeper in the world at present. He has grown into his position at United in the last five years phenomenally, his match saving shot-stopping being one of his greatest attributes. One on ones, close range strikes, de Gea pulls off some remarkable saves when faced with any of these shots, as well as being fantastic at keeping the ball out of the back of the net with his feet.
De Gea has established himself as an invaluable player for Manchester United, saving the team points in many games with last gasp saves and calm claiming of the ball to relieve the pressure. The Spanish goalkeeper has come a long way since his debut where he was criticised for his performance and blamed for both of Manchester City’s goals in the 2011 Community Shield match. Playing under four different managers in his time at Old Trafford, de Gea has gone from strength to strength and incredibly his best years are still to come as he is only 26 years old. David de Gea is United’s Spanish superstar, but he does have some competition arising for that title from two of his fellow countrymen at the club.
Perhaps one of the surprise Spanish signings to become one of the best current players for United is Juan Mata. He was bought by David Moyes during his ill-fated nine months as Man United manager, some might have said it was a transfer to prove the Scotsman could attract big money signings rather than a player the Old Trafford club really needed. However, he was one of the few highlights during the few months Moyes remained as United manager, scoring two goals in an impressive display away to Newcastle was one of his early great performances for the team. Many wondered if he would be part of Louis van Gaal’s plans when he was appointed to take charge of The Red Devils, but again, the attacking midfielder’s skills, precision, passing and ability to get forward and score critical goals made him a favourite with the Dutchman as well as with United fans. His equaliser in the 2016 FA Cup final against Crystal Palace was a prime example of Mata’s finishing from midfield, as well as rescuing the team with a crucial goal that turned the game for United.
Speculation over his future seems to have hung over Juan Mata since he signed for Manchester United, but none more so than when Jose Mourinho took over as manager of the club. Having sold the Spaniard to United having no requirement for him at Chelsea, it was presumed Mourinho would quickly move Mata on. In the first few months of the Portuguese man’s reign it looked ominous for the little midfield maestro, time spent on the bench and more press rumours regarding him leaving Old Trafford, however he has proved again what a valuable player he is and Mourinho has said himself that Mata is more a Manchester United player than a Chelsea one and fits nicely into the system he wants The Red Devils to play.
As well as having his own excellent football brain, Mata seems to have formed a great partnership with, no other than fellow Spaniard, Ander Herrera. They seem to bring the best out of each other when they both start for United as well as appearing to know what each are thinking and link play sublimely between them. In one of Mata’s best games for United against Liverpool at Anfield in 2015, where he scored two fantastic goals, it was Herrera who set him up for the first and both were instrumental in that win as well as in many other matches for the club.
Talking of Herrera brings me nicely onto the third Spaniard currently playing for Manchester United. Having adapted his game under the guidance of Mourinho to a deeper roll in midfield, the former Atletico Bilbao player is having a fantastic season and his passion for The Red Devils makes him even more of a standout star for the club. He likes nothing more than to express his love for United and the fans as well as his desire to win trophies with the team.
Hard working, breaking up play, starting attacks, Herrera’s all round game has it all, even in his new defensive position where he has openly admitted he is enjoying this season the most out of the three he has played in for United. However, it could have been very different for the Spaniard; David Moyes attempt to sign him in 2013 was surrounded in confusion and then the move fell through, Van Gaal did manage to complete the move the following summer but Herrera struggled under the Dutchman’s ‘philosophy’ and we failed to see his true ability.
His determination and raw talent has finally been seen by Mourinho and football fans are now seeing the real Ander Herrera – a permanent fixture in the first eleven, enthusiastic, grit, goal assister and the ability to dominate the midfield area. ‘Ander Herrera’ is chanted around Old Trafford with great affection for this midfield magician, United fans have taken him to their hearts as much as he has taken them and the club to his. In recent years, some may say The Red Devils have lacked players with passion and drive, in Herrera however, they have both in abundance.
It would be hard for any United fan to choose their favourite Spaniard-turned-Red Devil, all are equally important to the club each with their individual class and skill in their respective positions. However, one trait that all three players do have is they have knuckled down, had the desire to make it at Old Trafford and have all become successful. I see no reason why this Spanish trio cannot go onto become three of the greatest Manchester United players in the history of the club and enjoy continued success in English football.