The rumour mill went into overdrive this morning, when reported Manchester United target Ander Herrera was dropped to the bench by his current club Athletic Bilbao for their match against Real Madrid.
This is the same player who made 29 La Liga appearances last season – all from the start – and had begun both his club’s previous league matches of this campaign.
In short, when Herrera is fit, he invariably plays. That is until today, when his manager Ernesto Valverde chose to sit him on the bench against one of the best teams in Europe.
After the match, the coach claimed the decision had nothing to do with a mooted move to Old Trafford.
“I don’t need to be worried about the situation of Herrera, he has not asked to leave,” Valverde said.
“He is a very important player for us. My decision today had nothing to do with the offer.”
So important that he wasn’t picked to play against Real Madrid?
The feeling that the player must want to leave is one echoed by others at Bilbao, with the sense that he will not openly say so.
And yet Spanish newspaper El Correo reported earlier that the player does indeed want to leave, and that the ball is in United’s court. Either they meet his €36million release-clause or they do not.
That the player failed to appear even from the bench today suggests there is more to the story than a simple tactical shift on the part of Bilbao. But for now it remains a mystery; as does the future of Shinji Kagawa – a superstar in waiting…and seemingly in hiding.
With United crying out for a creative spark this afternoon, as they stuttered to a 1-0 loss at Anfield, why didn’t they call on Kagawa from their own substitutes’ bench?
Well, they couldn’t, because he wasn’t there.
Despite David Moyes claiming earlier this week that Kagawa would get his opportunities, that he simply needed a rest following his summer exertions with Japan, that is one long rest given that so many of the other players on Confederations Cup duty this summer have long-since returned to their clubs’ starting line-ups.
So today has seen a tale of two benches – one with a player on it and the other without. I am sure Kagawa will remain at Old Trafford this season, just as I believe there is something in the Herrera rumours – although there may not be enough time to turn them into reality.
But Moyes needs to do two simple things that could change his season and his legacy for the better.
He needs to play Kagawa, and he needs to sign a box-to-box midfielder. He has months in which to do one, but just over 24 hours to do the other.