The true value of a goalscorer is not measured purely by the number of times he hits the back of the net, but also by the impact and importance of his contributions, so it is hardly surprising that Javier Hernández has reduced Dimitar Berbatov to a bit-part player at Manchester United.
By Mark Ogden
But while Berbatov, United’s £30.75 million club-record signing and leading scorer this season – 22 in all competitions – can expect to start on the bench after overcoming a groin injury, Hernández is likely to be given another opportunity to justify Wayne Rooney’s claims that the Mexican, at £7 million, has been the “buy of the century”.
The 22 year-old took his tally for his first season in English football to 19 goals in all competitions with his 84th-minute winner against Everton, which secured a nervy victory that leaves United seven points short of a record 19th League title.
Just as at Stoke, Blackpool and West Brom in the league, and against Valencia, Marseille and Chelsea in Europe, Hernández came up with a goal when it mattered most.
Turn the clock back 12 months, when United struggled for goals without the injured Rooney and saw their title hopes evaporate in a dismal 0-0 stalemate against Blackburn at Ewood Park, and the value of Hernández becomes clear. He has the knack of finding something, somehow, to turn draws into wins, and his and United’s reward is likely to come in the shape of at least one piece of silverware, maybe even two.
Hernández’s pace and inclination to head for goal, ahead of Berbatov’s slower approach play, gives United a similar thrust as that which paved the way for Louis Saha to bring down the curtain on Ruud van Nistelrooy’s Old Trafford career five years ago.
That changing of the guard sparked a period of dominance during which United won three successive league titles and a Champions League.
Everton manager David Moyes, whose team were unfortunate not to gain a point, believes Hernández could be a central figure in United’s next great team. “United are continually building teams and this looks like the start of another,” Moyes said. “Sir Alex has a couple of players who have served him so well coming to the end of their time, but United are building a new team. Hernández, for example, and the Da Silva brothers.”
When Hernández was unveiled by United last April, the day after their Champions League quarter-final elimination against Bayern Munich, news of Chicharito’s arrival was lost amid the swirl of green-and-gold protests against the club’s owners, the Glazer family, and their lack of investment in Ferguson’s squad.
An unknown, plucked from an unheralded club in Mexico, was hardly going to appease the malcontents, but 19 goals in his debut campaign matches the return of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in his first season and, barring an untimely dry spell, Hernández seems certain to surpass Solskjaer’s tally.
“Chicharito has done better than everyone expected in his first year, because we thought he would just get used to the English game and get strengthened up.” Ferguson said. “But he has passed all those tests.He’s first in at nine o’clock in the morning and he’s the last one to leave. He’s a truly dedicated boy.”
Hernández’s goal, from Antonio Valencia’s far-post cross, was cruel on Everton, who had resisted United through the combined efforts of Phil Jagielka and goalkeeper Tim Howard. Jack Rodwell’s 25-yard strike, which was saved well by Edwin van der Sar, could even have given Everton the lead just prior to the goal.
Not for the first time, United struck as time was running out. Howard, a former United player, said: “Their resilience has always been there and there is a bravado about it. Some teams are drawing closer, but there’s not a wobble about United’s team.”