Ander Herrera reveals why he swapped Man United for PSG, Paul Pogba's role at United
Had things been different, Ander Herrera would have been part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's revolution at Manchester United. He was initially, at least, playing a central role in the Norwegian's blistering start as caretaker manager after Jose Mourinho's dismissal in December 2018. But after contract talks broke down -- Herrera puts it down to "disagreements" with the board -- at the end of last season, Herrera moved to Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer after five years at Old Trafford.
Herrera is open enough to admit that he thought he'd renew his deal at United before circumstance took him to Paris. In Manchester, Solskjaer's quest to take the club back to the top of domestic and European football continues. Now, just like any other supporter, Herrera says he is "optimistic" for their future.
"I am a fan of Ole," Herrera told ESPN. "He has red in his heart. I think they have made some good decisions. There's still a way to go to fight for the title right now because I think Liverpool and Manchester City, they are very strong right now, but I think [Man United] are on the way.
"They have made some good decisions and they've signed some players who can give a lot to the club."
Herrera's affection for United is obvious. A ferocious, battling midfielder who never shied away from the "dark arts," he was popular with fans too and was voted the club's player of the year in 2017. He left having collected winners' medals in the EFL Cup, FA Cup and Europa League, winning the man-of-the-match award in the 2-0 win over Ajax in the final.
"I will always have a bit of United in my heart and I wish them the best because the fans were amazing with me," he says. "I will never be able to give all this love back, but I wish them all the best, of course. I enjoyed five amazing years in Manchester. I have the best memories about the club, and I will never be able to give back all the love and affection that they gave to me in the last few years."
After more than 10 years as a professional, Herrera finally won his first league title at PSG when Ligue 1 was cancelled in response to the coronavirus pandemic. He admits to feeling "sad" that it was effectively won in government offices rather than on the pitch, and it remains a source of hurt that he could not win the league in England.
"A title is always a title," Herrera says. "It's good at the end of your career to be able to say you have won these titles, but in your head you want to know you won that title in that game against that team and celebrate with your fans. We haven't been able to do it [yet]. I wanted to celebrate with our fans and my teammates.
"I haven't won a league title since I was a professional, because in Manchester we had the possibility to win some trophies but not the Premier League, so I was looking forward to it, but we couldn't do it on the pitch."
The closest Herrera got to the Premier League was a second-place finish under Mourinho in 2018, but he says he believes the pieces are starting to come together for Solskjaer as he looks to go one better.
Then there's the topic of what Man United will look like next season. Paul Pogba's future is again up in the air ahead of the next transfer window, but Herrera would like to see the Frenchman stay and serve as the mastermind in overhauling rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.
"I haven't spoken with him for a long time and I don't know what he wants to do," Herrera says. "It's true that every day in the papers we can read that he wants to leave, or Manchester United are going to sell him, but I don't really know what he wants to do.
"[Pogba] can be the best midfielder in the world. In terms of qualities, he has everything. I have never seen a midfielder who has all the qualities you can have. He can recover a lot of balls, he can head the ball, he can score goals, he can defend, he can attack, he's so strong and tall.
"It's true that since he came to the club he has some ups and downs, but when he was good, he was really good. Amazing. It was a pleasure to play with him.
"I think all the Manchester United fans want to see the best of Pogba. That can happen, and with Bruno Fernandes, I think Manchester United can do great things. Liverpool and Man City are also doing great things. It's not easy but with Paul, Bruno, Marcus [Rashford] ... they can."
If the Premier League is allowed to restart, Solskjaer's immediate aim will be to guide his team into the top four and back into the Champions League. Meanwhile, Herrera still has a chance to win Europe's top club competition if UEFA's plan to complete the competition in August gets the green light. PSG have already booked their place in the quarterfinals after victory over Borussia Dortmund, but Herrera is yet to be convinced the plan is workable.
"I still wake up every day wondering if this is true or not because sometimes it looks like a Hollywood film," he says. "You don't know what is going to happen the next day and it's a bit crazy.
"I have read that some of the teams in Spain, Italy and Germany are back in training, or at least doing the tests and all the medical stuff, but we have no news because in France, the prime minister has said it's not possible to have sport events until September.
"I think even the club is quite lost about this situation and they don't know what to do. If we come back now we have almost three months before we have to play the Champions League games, it's crazy. I think we will come back around July, something like this, to train for one month and prepare for the Champions League, but I'm not optimistic. I'm not optimistic because as soon as there is one case I think everything will be finished. I hope I'm wrong, honestly."
Despite developing a reputation for shooting themselves in the foot in the Champions League knockout rounds, PSG are among the favourites to lift the trophy if the remaining fixtures can be played. And, according to Herrera, it is with good reason after a season during which he's seen Neymar and Kylian Mbappe up close.
"It's not common to play with two of the top five players in the world," he says. "That's why I am so sad being at home and not playing every weekend. Marquinhos, Thiago Silva is the captain of Brazil, Marco Verratti, [Angel] Di Maria, [Edinson] Cavani -- we have players who can fight for the Ballon d'Or every year.
"I remember about three weeks before this situation came, I spoke with Neymar and we were having dinner and I said he had never been happier since I came to Paris. He said he had never felt as good as he feels now with the team and the group. So if one of the best players in the world, one who can change games and bring you a trophy, if he says that to you, imagine how I felt. I was very optimistic. I think it's the moment to do it. Something really massive can happen for the club and for the team."