Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal believes midfielder Ander Herrera may have been distracted by the match-fixing case hanging over him.
Herrera, who joined the Red Devils in a £29 million deal from Athletic Bilbao last summer, was due to fly back to Spain this week in order to give evidence in court.
However, the Guardian report that the case which has rocked Spanish football has been delayed until the summer because not all of the 41 potential witnesses have been located.
Speaking to the press prior to this evening’s Premier League clash against Newcastle United at St James’ Park, Van Gaal admitted Herrera’s focus may have been disrupted by the pending court case.
“The environment [around] a human being is very important,” he said. “When it is like that he [Herrera] will be influenced.”
Is this why Van Gaal has used Herrera so sparingly?
This may explain why Van Gaal has used Herrera so sparingly this season.
The 25-year-old has made just eight Premier League starts for the Red Devils, much to the frustration of the club’s fans, and has completed 90 minutes in the league on just four occasions since his big-money move from La Liga.
Herrera, though, has often proved his considerable quality on the occasions he has been picked by Van Gaal.
The Spaniard has contributed three goals and three assists in the Premier League this term - and has two more Manchester United goals to his name thanks to important strikes in the FA Cup.
It seems the penny may have finally dropped with Van Gaal and Herrera: the midfielder has played the full 90 minutes in each of United’s previous two league fixtures against Swansea City and Sunderland, and is expected to retain his place in the starting line-up against Newcastle this evening.
Herrera could face football ban or prison if found guilty
But it’s possible that United fans will not see Herrera at his very best until the player manages to clear his name this summer.
The former Athletic Bilbao star is accused by prosecutor Alejandro Luzón of receiving a €90,000 payment from club president Agapito Iglesias, during his time playing for Real Zaragoza, before handing it to a Levante player on the final day of the 2010-11 season.
Even though the prosecution has reportedly managed to present bank records to the court with evidence of the initial transactions, Herrera denies any wrongdoing and insists his “conscience is clear”.
If found guilty, however, the Manchester United star faces a ban from football or even a prison sentence.
Best is still to come from Herrera
It’s clear that the best is still to come from Herrera, who undoubtedly has the talent and mental strength to succeed at Old Trafford.
And presuming he manages to clear his name this summer, United fans can expect to see the real Ander Herrera - the midfielder who played an instrumental role in the brilliant Athletic Bilbao side managed by Marcelo Bielsa - during the 2015-16 campaign.
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