By Michael Lewis
Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of England’s Manchester United, addresses the media during a news conference at Red Bull Arena, Tuesday, March 29, 2011, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Sir Alex Ferguson needed only six words to describe what sort of revelation Chicharito has been for Manchester United this season.
“He’s been nothing short of sensational,” the ManU manager said.
Indeed, Javier Hernández has been that and then some. Ferguson, who made a quick trip across the pond to promote United’s American summer tour and the English Premier League team’s participation in the MLS all-star game, was clearly enthused about the young Mexican standout at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
Beyond the Mexican’s exceptional goal-scoring ability, Sir Alex has been impressed with Chicharito’s work ethic – not just on the pitch, but off of it between games.
“He comes into training in the morning at 8:00, does his own work in the gymnasium,” he said during a news conference on Tuesday. “He stays after training with the rest of the players in practices for various parts of his game. The boy wants to get better. It has helped with the tradition of his family.”
Hernández is the son of former pro player Javier Hernández, who performed for El Tri in the 1986 World Cup, and grandson of former for C.D. Guadalajara star Tomás Balcázar, who also played for the Mexican National Team.
“I think that gives him the extra encouragement to do well,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson and company had a good inkling of what they were going to get from Hernández when the Mexican standout scored his first goal for the club in a 5-2 win over the MLS All-Stars in Houston last year.
“Paul Scholes says to me after the game: 25 goals,” he said of a longtime ManU standout. “And Paul Scholes doesn’t say a lot. He’s a very quiet lad, a great professional, a fantastic judge. He says 25 goals. I say, ‘You think so?’ He says 25 goals. So what we’re seeing is 16 goals with eight league games and hopefully a few European ties and the F.A. Cup. It could get to 25 and Scholes would be right. We’re expecting that.”
Sir Alex has a history of bringing along young players slowly. He did that with Ryan Giggs when the Welsh international came up as a teenager two decades ago, shielding him from the media for quite some time. He did not want to rush things with Chicharito, who has been on a fast track to English and European glory.
“It’s been nothing but acceleration,” Ferguson said. “When we took him it reminds me a lot of what has been said about our young players when they come to the club. It takes time to develop and to settle in, to learn the language, to develop physically in the Premier League because it is a physical league. We then put a time mark on it. Our sentiment was that he would be a substitute, that type of thing. Javier had a breaking-in period.”
But Chicharito had other things in mind. He was a substitute all right, turning into a super sub. He started to score late goals, turning loses into draws and ties and into wins.
Even with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov in the lineup, Ferguson had no choice but to start the 22-year-old Hernández, especially with the number of games United must play in the EPL, English F.A Cup and the UEFA Champions League.
Hernández, who connected twice for Mexico’s 3-1 international friendly victory over Paraguay in Oalkand Saturday, but none in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Venezuela in San Diego, has continued to find the back of the net. He will try to add to his goals total in United’s EPL match at West Ham United on Saturday.
Whether USA soccer fans will get an opportunity to witness the magic of Chicharito in person this summer for many games, it remains to be seen.
Ferguson is hopeful Hernández will be available for United’s full tour, although his participation in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which runs from June 5-25, will have something to say about that.
United will play at the New England Revolution in Foxborough, Mass. on July 13, vs. the Seattle Sounders FC on July 20, the Chicago Fire in Chicago on July 23, the MLS all-stars in Harrison, N.J. on July 27, and vs. Barcelona in Landover, Md. on July 30.
“I’m hoping, depending on how he comes through, that will join up with us for some part of the tour,” Ferguson said.
If Mexico reaches the final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., it would not be surprising if United gives Hernández some time off to rest his mind and body.
After all, even a great player like Chicharito needs to recharge his batteries.