If there is one quality that has brought Manchester United to the brink of the title this season it is that familiar faith in their impending victory that makes those last-minute wins feel so inevitable.
By Duncan White
It has become part of the club culture, a self-fulfilling cycle of success: to Ferguson’s teams those three points are their manifest destiny.
While this virtue dates back to the late goals of Steve Bruce in Ferguson’s first title-winning season, this campaign it has found its most frequent expression in its freshest recruit.
Javier Hernández has not only bagged 19 goals so far this season but he has scored them when it mattered. Against Everton last week he leapt to head another late winner. How many points has his finishing been worth this season?
Ferguson likes to compare him to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’ who Hernández resembles in both looks and style. But that is about all we are told. The Mexican remains a mystery to many.
The club have carefully controlled his media appearances while he adapts to life in England and when Ferguson was pressed to talk about his impact after the defeat of Everton, he talked about Chick-a-reeto always being the last off the training field (who isn’t? If that was true of every player it has been said about, the training fields of this country would be like the Hotel California).
There is no question he has applied himself. Intense gym work has developed his upper-body strength to help him with Premier League combat and Ferguson has judged his elevation from impact substitute to first team player astutely.
Yet the qualities that have made Hernandez the surprise star of the season were already there when he arrived in the summer.
When player data was analysed at the World Cup, Hernández came out as reaching the fastest speed — 19.98mph — but it is not raw pace alone that makes him so effective (enough players have that), it is the way that that pace is employed.
The angles of Hernández’s runs, the way he attacks the right areas of the goalmouth are classical. In a game in which so many players rely on their inbuilt physicality, Hernández looks supremely coached.
To understand why Hernández has brought such theoretical discipline to his game, you have to go back to his development.
Playing like this requires faith in your team-mates — that after making the same run 10 times, this time it will come off — and that is something that has come to the Catholic Hernandez after rediscovering faith in himself.
He may have come out of nowhere to the British football fan but in Mexico he grew up with expectations of success.
He is the son of Mexican international Javier Hernández Guitierrez (known as Chicharo, the pea, for his green eyes) and his maternal grandfather Tomas Balcazar played for Mexico in the 1954 World Cup.
His father had not been convinced Hernández had what it took to turn professional and encouraged his studies.
Yet, by his early teens it was clear that he had talent and, in 2005, he was all set to be part of the most exciting youth team in the history of Mexican football as they went to Peru for the Under-17 World Cup.
Hernandez, though, got injured. He was distraught. The Mexican federation invited him to come and watch anyway and he was in the stadium for the final to see his team-mates, inspired by Carlos Vela and Gio dos Santos, become world champions.
He describes himself crying for joy but also remembers his grandmother, who had accompanied on the trip, consoling him, telling him his turn would come.
Two years later, with mostly the same group of players, he got his chance at the Under-20 World Cup in Canada.
He scored as a substitute in a group game against Gambia and started against New Zealand. Mexico went out to a Sergio Aguero-inspired Argentina (the eventual winners) in the quarter-finals.
Scouts swarmed all over that tournament but Hernandez went under the radar as there were supposedly richer pickings on offer: Alexis Sanchez, Gerard Pique, Juan Mata, Luis Suarez, David Luiz, Alexandre Pato and Angel di Maria received thrilled reports back in Europe.
Then came the crisis. Hernández had begun to break into the Chivas team the previous year but, in 2008, the goals stopped coming.
He was dropped and became despondent. He started to doubt his own ability and wondered if he were not better off prioritising his studies, maybe even quitting football.
His family rallied round him and told him to go back to basics, to start enjoying training again, not to try to rush everything. Within nine months, Manchester United’s scouts were on to him.
Within two years he had played at the World Cup and was a Premier League star.
It is this period of doubt which was the making of Hernández. At an age, 19 to 20, when most players are being indulged and celebrated, not to mention enjoying their first big contracts, Hernandez was going back to first principles. It shows in his game.
That humility lingers.
In a recent interview with a Mexican television journalist he described himself as “being like a sponge” around Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand, absorbing everything he could from them while training at Carrington. No wonder Ferguson has been impressed by his attitude.
Off the field not everything has gone smoothly. One local anecdote doing the rounds is that he tried to give a worker in his local supermarket a £5 tip for helping him find a bag of tagliatelle (fearing he had offended her he returned the next day with a signed shirt).
Yet with his family having moved to Manchester and his English good enough to translate for Anderson live on television last weekend, his adaptation is moving apace. Which is how he likes to do things, of course.
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