With the overwhelming majority of the media spotlight shining on Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie’s shoulders this season at Old Trafford, you would be forgiven for thinking that those two are under no pressure at all when it comes to selection. Think again. A little Mexican, seemingly a relative forgotten man in the United striking department, has quietly set about his ways and is giving Sir Alex Ferguson a serious selection headache, a good headache.
Javier Hernandez, with 4 goals in his last 3 appearances, has proven to the manager that he is more than ready to battle for a starting berth alongside or in place of either Rooney or Van Persie. His recent strikes, against Braga and Chelsea, have demonstrated that the ‘little pea’ is in fine form and he is ready to give United an added goal threat. The manager believes that Hernandez is duly benefiting from his first full pre-season with the club.
“The thing that is making the difference is he got a proper rest in the summer,” said Ferguson. “It wasn’t exhausting in the way it had been in the previous three years. He was tremendous the other night (against Braga). He is such a dedicated footballer and professional in every training session.”
Ferguson initially caused controversy (not the first time either) when he asked for the Mexican national team’s permission to omit the 24 year old from their final Olympic games squad. Hernandez’s omission did not have a lasting effect on Mexico, who picked up gold for their footballing efforts, beating Brazil in the final. His absence meant that United could have a galvanized, revitalised and fresher-minded striker on their hands ahead of this season.
So what makes Chicharito such a vital player over the course of the nine month grind? Well, he scores goals when it matters, he seems to have an ability to notch crucial goals to nick all 3 points or turn draws into victories. In his stellar debut season in England, he scored important winners away from home at Stoke and West Brom, it could be argued that those 4 points that he earnt were pivotal when the season came to a close.
Another key element in order to see off your rivals is squad harmony. Many initially believed that the marquee signing of Robin Van Persie would force Chicharito to consider his options, as chances appeared to be limited, at least on paper. Not once, however, has the Mexican complained or thrown the toys out of the pram at not starting every week. Chicharito appears to be a very level-headed human being, who seems to just be eternally grateful that he is playing for the best club in world football. He is still living the dream.
He had this to say before the season started regarding competition for places: “Like I always say, there are parts of your life when you’re going to have competition. Even if you’re in the youth team you will have competition in your position, that’s normal. I think having that competition in the team can be good, to keep fighting for that place will make you and the other players play at their best because everyone – the strikers, the midfielders, the defenders, the goalkeepers – all want to be in the XI so they need to keep improving and work hard. It’s normal for a footballer, so I’m going to be ready whenever the gaffer wants me to play. If it’s one minute or 90 minutes, I want to do my best to help the team win titles”.
Hernandez is a completely different proposition to opposition defenders than our other striking trio consisting of Rooney, Van Persie and Danny Welbeck. He is the exact definition of ‘poacher’, a ‘fox in the box’ if you will. Unlike Rooney and Van Persie, who certainly have the eye for the spectacular and offer significantly more regarding creativity, Hernandez has mastered the art of forward play inside the penalty area. He is a more energetic and livelier Ruud Van Nistelrooy, our legendary Dutch striker would save all his energies for play in and around the penalty area, Hernandez not only shares this trait of coming alive in dangerous positions, but also is willing to combine this with the dirty work that not many forwards relish- tracking back and harrying defenders into making a mistake. Hernandez is simply a manager’s dream.
It seems apt to compare our Mexican to another Old Trafford legend. A certain Norwegian. Yes, you know how I mean. Hernandez has recently been branded as United’s latest ‘super sub’, a tag famously adopted to the great Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. I’m sure Hernandez will not care one iota what he is branded, as long as he gets minutes on the football field. It’s fair to say Hernandez is not the worst substitute to have amongst your ranks, he is just unfortunate that United’s already exalted front-line is brimming with world-class talent. Hernandez in fact is the ideal substitute. He will undoubtedly always provide United with an injection of pace and energy, which is more often than not required in the big games. One thing defenders always hate playing against is players running at them with raw pace, Hernandez has this trait, this pace exposes tiring defenders and will therefore almost certainly create more scoring opportunities at the back-end of tight matches, but it is not just his pace that is a menacing proposition to play against. His movement off the ball is unrivalled, not only does he have the ability to time his runs, he will also make more than one movement during a single attack, which is what throws the defenders and gives ‘pea’ the space in the penalty area to get off a shot. His movement is reminiscent of Michael Owen in his heyday, Owen was the original master of losing his man in a crowded box, Hernandez has picked up this knack, he is always on the move, which makes him a constant threat.
Hernandez was certainly an unknown quantity to many upon signing for United. United, in typical fashion, stole ahead of their rivals to complete a deal, believed to be around £6M, before anyone else could cast their eyes on this seemingly hidden gem. It is staggering to think that Hernandez almost quit the beautiful game due to a lack of playing time trying to make the grade in his homeland. In his first season in England, Hernandez was a revelation. There was no settling in period, he hit the ground running, by scoring on his competitive debut against Chelsea with his face, one of the more memorable debut goals. Defenders across the land were struggling to deal with his aforementioned qualities- movement, lethal finishing, pace, energy. This surprise element was paramount in helping us secure the title in 2010-11, on the rare occasion Rooney and Berbatov didn’t deliver, Chicharito would always nick a late goal to secure the points, the hallmark of a Championship winning side is their ability to win games when not at optimum performance, poachers like Hernandez play a key role, as only the slightest chance can be converted into a goal.
His second season in England did not exactly match the heights of his debut campaign. The amount of travelling Hernandez did before pre-season was surely enough to guarantee him free travel on Easyjet for life. He was topping up the air miles for Mexico, let alone the distances United cover every pre-season. During this pre-season, Hernandez suffered a bad dose of concussion, something that also cropped up during his playing time in Mexico, so his start to the season was blighted by this unfortunate injury curse, allowing local lad Danny Welbeck to take centre stage and stamp his authority on his United career. Welbeck had reaped the rewards from spending time away from the Old Trafford bubble, with ex-Red Steve Bruce helping transform Welbeck from boy to man. Welbeck flourished in a fledgling partnership with England team-mate Wayne Rooney, in what was a breakthrough campaign for the Longsight born striker. This meant Hernandez would spend longer than he’d have liked warming the United bench, this is where he was first mooted as United’s new ‘super sub’. Despite not featuring as prominently as Welbeck last year, Hernandez still mustered the same total of league goals as Welbeck, one thing Hernandez trumps Welbeck with is his ability to finish.
Before this campaign started, many were wondering if the Van Persie coup would have an adverse effect upon the ‘little pea’. Au contraire, the added embarrassment of riches has only motivated Hernandez and made him as determined as ever to show his worth. He is looking happy after completing his first full pre-season, the prolonged rest has certainly re-energised him. Apparently he is a key player in the dressing room, always smiling, getting involved with the banter, characters like this are needed in a dressing room, someone to buoy the players, he is the infectious type.
There will, of course, be times during the long slog that the star duo Rooney and Van Persie will need to put their feet up. This is where Hernandez’s importance cannot be questioned. If you’d want someone on the end of that one chance needed to win a game, the majority would choose Hernandez. Bringing Hernandez into the team could also mean Rooney could drop a little deeper to link play between the midfield and the front, same could be said of Van Persie. This is precisely why the dross in the media linking him with a £12M move to Atletico Madrid as a potential Falcao replacement should be ignored, you cannot put a price on natural goalscorers such as Hernandez, Ferguson knows this, which is why he stressed the importance of the Mexican. The argument he would not get games due to the increased competition is not entirely accurate, United will and have found time for him this season, he is an understated, vital cog in the United machine.
Here’s to hoping he can continue his great patch of form tomorrow, 4 goals in his last 3 games, 5 in 4 and 3 points would be ideal.