Ander Herrera, who like many of his young teammates has caught the eye of both a regular and casual watcher of Athletic Bilbao, is in danger of having his season ravaged by a debilitating injury that the club thought they could manage.
Ander, bought for an initial €8.5m plus further incentives up to €2.2m, has become the creative hub within a team many inside Spanish coaching circles believed he’d become. At Real Zaragoza, he was a slight, frustrating character struggling in a team who played little football and when they did it never truly brought his style to the fore. His move to the Basque Country however, has seen him flourish into one of Spain’s most exciting midfielders.
Technical ability, vision, positionally aware, intelligent and composed; Ander possesses all the attributes that the traditional Spanish midfielder utilises to flourish. He can pick a pass from deep and seek out a teammate from yards, but he can also burst into key areas and provide a finish himself. Case in point was at San Mamés against Barcelona, the 22 year old glided across the rain soaked turf before calmly finishing in a manner one of his idols, Xavi, would be proud of.
His fine performance that day was one of many in which he’s been a hub of creative activity in central midfield. What he lacked in pace or physicality, was made up for through sheer football intelligence. Along with other key individuals, and Marcelo Bielsa and his coaching team, he’s given Athletic’s ardent support something to believe in.
However over the last two months Ander’s form has slipped dramatically. It then recently came to light he’s actually carrying an injury, of the pubis bone to be exact, which will inevitably conclude with surgery. Athletic had drawn up a plan to mediate the injury until the end of the season at least, due to them being unable to find a date with games remaining. The situation though, has unfortunately become worse. So much so, that the pain becomes unbearable in-game and the midfielder can neither take set-pieces nor go into challenges. In between games, he’s training just three times a week and that’s on a special plan.
Ander has been involved in 46 games, and substituted in exactly 23 of those - half. The amount of games he’s participated in would have been considerably more had he not suffered another injury in the form of a torn meniscus, at the start of the season which kept him out for a month. Since then, he’s taken in 3,160 minutes though over the last 5 games has averaged just 50.4 minutes.
The caveat to the surgery aspect is that it would mean he’d miss the finale of Athletic’s most important season for quite some time. Furthermore, if they were to wait until the end of the season, Ander would miss out on the Olympics. Amongst Spain’s young players there is a huge desire to take part in the games, so missing that would be devastating for any player. However, the thought alone of heading to London with this injury still persisting, is painful enough. On Thursday, it’s certain that Ander will be in the starting line-up against Sporting CP, as the Basque outfit continue their charge for the Europa League. It’s seemingly certain too, that he’ll be removed before the hour mark.
What was turning out to be such a promising debut season with Athletic for Ander is perilously close to collapsing before his very eyes – ever more worrying is that no one seems to know the exact solution.