Por Stuart Mathieson
Javier ‘Little Pea’ Hernandez announced his arrival in England with a scruffy poacher’s goal at Wembley – tonight at the same stadium he could overtake Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s debut season goal haul from 14 years ago.
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed the ‘startling’ Mexican’s form and compared his impact to that of the Norwegian Red legend.
Back in 1996-97 the unknown Solskjaer ended his first Old Trafford campaign as the Reds’ leading scorer with 18 Premier League hits and a Champions League goal on his account.
Hernandez’s strike against Chelsea in Europe in midweek was the £8m hitman’s 18th of a remarkable season.
It began against Chelsea in the Community Shield last August when he slid in on Antonio Valencia’s right-wing cross and diverted the ball home off his boot via his face!
It was the kind of ugly goal that poachers thrive on and, with Wayne Rooney absent for this evening’s derby FA Cup semi-final, Fergie is set to go with the in-form Mexican to fire the Reds onto the next stage of their Treble bid.
Chicharito’s influence on United has even taken aback the Reds manager.
“I didn’t expect Hernandez to have the impact he has to be honest with you. I really didn’t,” Ferguson admitted.
“We said to Ole Solskjaer when he first arrived (in 1996) that his first season would be about integration. It was about getting used to the club and getting used to the training. It was exactly the same with Hernandez.
“But it was exactly the same as it was with Solskjaer. After a few reserve games – among them a hat-trick against Leeds – Jim Ryan came to me and said he is a first-team player. Jim said there was no point Ole playing reserve team football because of his quality.
“We made him a sub in the first team the following week against Blackburn and he scored.
“With Hernandez, particularly coming from Central America, we felt we should give him time to bed in. The only advantage with Hernandez was that he’d played in the World Cup so there was a profile attached to him.
“He’d also played in a competition in his country much tougher than Ole had played in Norway. In that respect we had a fair idea about Hernandez. We had a far better product in Hernandez as opposed to Ole.
“There were a lot of unknowns with Ole. We took a little bit of a gamble. We saw him a few times but we couldn’t measure his talent compared to Hernandez.”
Chicharito’s Wembley opener nine months ago was out of the Gary Lineker book of finishing.
“Javier is fantastic at taking up position. It is natural. He has the natural instinct moving around in the box,” added Ferguson.
“There have been a few top strikers who have had that quality and Ole was one. He had that kind of thing in him where he’d always be in space in the box. It was a natural instinct to do that.
“Gary Lineker probably never scored a good goal in his life. But he was always in space. He’d get rebounds off goalkeepers. He was always in really good areas and positions.
“Hernandez also has a natural talent in the box to find space. And his timing is terrific. It is fantastic.”
But for every winner there also has to be a loser and despite still being United’s top scorer with 22 goals this season – his best-ever haul – £30.75m club record buy Dimitar Berbatov has been the striker to miss out of late. While Hernandez has bagged seven goals in his last nine appearances Berbatov has had to be content with just two starts.
“It is unfortunate for Dimitar because he is a fantastic player,” said Ferguson. “But the reasons are obvious. The emergence of Hernandez in the last couple of months has been startling. He is improving all the time. He is getting stronger.
“It is very difficult to leave a player out when he hits that kind of form. Every manager and every player in the country has faced that some time in their career when another player emerges to challenge you.
“It is the horrible part of being a footballer.
“That is why players like Giggs and Scholes are driven to make sure their standards are really, really high.”