Hector Herrera is ready for the challenge of joining Europe's elite
If there is one Mexican player ready for the challenge of stepping up to play for an elite European club side at present, it's Hector Herrera -- even ahead of Hirving Lozano. And that move may become a reality this summer, depending on how a vital few weeks in the career of the Mexico midfielder turns out.
The 28-year-old's contract at Porto expires next summer, and talk of interest from Real Madrid and Barcelona doesn't appear to be far-fetched.
Herrera has arguably been Mexico's best player at the past two World Cups, will be at his peak for the next few years, is already settled in Europe and once again showed in Russia why it is far from ridiculous to suggest he could make the jump up.
Porto is reportedly -- and naturally -- keen on extending the contract of a player who has stated he and his family are enjoying life in Portugal, but the temptation of a giant would surely be too much to turn down. The Porto captain was an integral part of the side winning the Portuguese league last season, scoring the crucial goal against Benfica in the title run-in. But Porto has been talking about renewing Herrera's contract since December and nothing has been announced, even with the midfielder traveling directly to Portugal after Mexico exited the World Cup.
In Spain, Real Madrid's interest has surely been fueled by Julen Lopetegui taking over as manager. Herrera excelled under Lopetegui during the Spaniard's two years in charge of Porto.
The problem with the Bernabeu could come in the competition Herrera would have. Unless Toni Kroos, Casemiro or Luka Modric leave the club in what remains of the transfer window, it's difficult to see Herrera starting on a week-to-week basis. That said, one of Herrera's strengths is his ability to play different positions within the midfield, from the holding role, as a box-to-box dynamo or even behind the striker or out wide, as he did earlier in his career. While Herrera may not be an automatic starter, he'd get minutes at Real Madrid and would follow in the footsteps of fellow Mexicans Hugo Sanchez and Javier Hernandez.
Then there is Barcelona, who is in the midst of a midfield balancing act after the departures of Andres Iniesta and Paulinho this offseason. While Iniesta's heir apparent Philippe Coutinho is already at the club, Herrera would be a natural substitute for China-bound Paulinho. And even if Brazilian midfielder Arthur joins in coming days, Herrera is better prepared to make an instant impact than the 21-year-old. And with Andre Gomes likely on the way out, the Catalan club will have yet another midfielder to replace.
Given Herrera's buyout clause is a reported €40 million, it's no surprise that other teams beyond Real Madrid and Barcelona are also reportedly interested in him. Arsenal has also been mentioned in a list including Napoli, Lyon and Marseille.
For Mexico, Herrera's next move obviously has significant implications. The midfielder is one of the key players from Russia 2018 who will still be vital at Qatar 2022. Already the lynchpin of the Mexican side, the manager -- be it Juan Carlos Osorio or somebody else -- can build a team around Herrera for the next World Cup, gradually introducing younger talent to replace the likes of Hernandez, Rafa Marquez, Andres Guardado and even Hector Moreno.
Since Osorio took charge of his first game in November 2015, no player has been as influential as Herrera. He's had more touches on the ball than anyone else, is top in the assists column and leads the team with his work rate. Herrera could well be Mexico's captain in Qatar.
Mexico needs Herrera to play regularly, but also could really do well with a player making the jump to an elite team, to provide an example to future generations and give the game a boost after Russia 2018 provided the seventh consecutive round-of-16 exit at the World Cup.
If the opportunity to play for a Barcelona or Real Madrid comes up, Herrera should embrace it with the confidence that he is ready for the challenge.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.