MAY 11, 2011
8th April, 2010: Manchester United announced the signing of a relatively unknown Mexican striker Javier Hernandez Balcazar from Chivas Guadalajara (most EPL fans had heard the name of the club once before, when Carlos Vela signed for Arsenal) for an undisclosed fee, rumored to be around a modest £6m. Many who were expecting a few big name signings following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo raised questions at the Glazers, specifically the spending power of the club under them. Many wondered if he would make it at a big club like United.
Chicharito or Little Pea as he is fondly called stands at a mere 5’9” tall. His physicality isn’t his biggest strength. But despite being slight of build he came to Old Trafford with a reputation of being a great header of the ball coupled with tremendous movement and excellent penalty box anticipation.
“I am delighted to reach agreement with Chivas to bring such an exciting young striker, who has been in such prolific form for both his club and his country. He will be a great addition to our squad and we look forward to welcoming our first Mexican player in the summer.” – Sir Alex
Then came the FIFA World Cup in South Africa where Hernandez represented Mexico. He came off the bench against France to score his first ever World Cup goal. It was a trademark “Chicharito” move as he beat the offside trap from a Marquez through ball and side footed the ball into the net, past Hugo Lloris. His decent performances in the group stages earned him a starting place in the Round of 16 match against Argentina where he scored the consolation goal for Mexico as they were shown the door in a 1-3 defeat. Chicharito emerged as the quickest player in the World Cup, doing a top speed of 32.15 kph (20mph), beating the likes of Messi and Ronaldo.
A tiring World Cup campaign was followed by United’s preseason tour to USA. Hernandez was given the Number 14 jersey, previously worn by Zoran Tosic who was sold in the summer. Hernandez played his first match for United against MLS All Stars where he came on as a substitute. A delightful run behind the defenders, from a Darrent Fletcher cross, followed by a beautiful chip from just outside the box over the goalkeeper’s head made for his first goal in a Reds shirt. The fans watched in awe as the Mexican troubled the defenders throughout the preseason with his blistering pace and wit. A part of Chicharito’s transfer deal involved United playing against Chivas in a preseason friendly. A fan favorite in Mexico, Chicharito started the match as a Chivas player, scoring a first half goal against his new club. At half time, he swapped sides but couldn’t prevent United from facing a 2-3 defeat. He scored once more in the preseason against Airtricity League XI.
Chicharito’s arrival at Old Trafford meant a surplus of strikers. Young Danny Welbeck and Mame Diouf were loaned out to Sunderland and Blackburn respectively. Many thought that Hernandez would be below Rooney, Berbatov, Owen and Macheda in the pecking order for the first season.
United played their first match of the season against Chelsea in the Community Shield at Wembley. Valencia’s first half goal allowed Sir Alex to bring Hernandez on for Park at the beginning of the second half. On his competitive debut for United, Hernandez netted the ball in the 76th minute in a rather comical manner. Valencia’s cross from the right found Chicharito in the box, whose shot got deflected from his own face before going into the net to make it 2-0. Berbatov added a third as United won the match 3-1.
Hernandez further came into the limelight by scoring the solitary goal in the 86th minute against Valencia in the Champions League, after coming off the bench. Meanwhile, United faced further problems as Rooney, misfiring ever since England’s World Cup debacle, refused to sign on his contract extension. After a lot of “will he/won’t he”, Rooney signed his new, MUCH improved contract and was sent on a family holiday followed by a month long conditioning camp in USA. With Owen unavailable for selection, thanks to his frequent injuries and Macheda still not a first team material, Hernandez stepped up to the task and along with Berbatov, netted few of the most important goals of United’s season. A few United fans came up with the chant of “Viva Hernandez, Viva Hernandez… Call him Little Pea… Sh*ts on Wayne Rooney…Viva Hernandez”during that time.
While United’s title aspirations were boosted by a string of bad performances from rivals Chelsea and Arsenal, their own performance (which has been accused of lacking “fantasy”) deserves an applaud. The team never gives up. And I am sure these must have been Sir Alex’s welcoming words for Hernandez.
The 86th minute winner against Stoke City (after scoring a back header in the first half), the goal against Blackpool in a hard fought 3-2 win, the solitary goal against Everton in the league; the 75th minute winner against Southampton in the 4th round of FA Cup; the 90th minute winner against Wolves in the fourth round of the Carling Cup are a few goals that prove Chicharito’s “never say never” attitude.
In the Champions League, United were progressing beyond expectations. A tricky Marseille were left gaping by Chicharito’s express pace. The Mexican scored a brace against the French club at Old Trafford to guarantee United’s place in the Quarter Finals where they played Chelsea. Hernandez scored yet again in the second leg at home as United cruised past the Blues 3-1 over the two legs.
The imperativeness of having Chicharito in the starting XI can be proved from the fact that Dimitar Berbatov, who is the premier league’s leading goal scorer this season with 21 goals to his name has been sent down the pecking order with Chicharito starting alongside Rooney in “big” matches. Since the beginning of March, Hernandez has started 11 of United’s 16 games (and scored in two of his three substitute appearances during the same period). However, all rumors of Berbatov feeling insecure because of Hernandez were put to bed when the duo celebrated United’s win against Chelsea last Saturday. Hernandez is a team player who gels along nicely with each and every member of the squad. His 36th second goal against Chelsea made him the first player to score 20 goals in a debut season since Ruud van Nistelrooy (who scored an unbelievable 36).
A cute, lovable face with a steady head, Chicharito is loved for his act of kissing the United badge after scoring. He is simply adored by all United fans and I am yet to hear a bad word for him from anyone. Even a few Gooners and Kops have joined me in singing praise for the Little Pea. A God fearing person, Chicharito prays before every match on the pitch to thank God for helping realize his dreams. His prayers also include a request to god to keep his team mates and oppositions away from any serious injury.
“I like to pray. I talk to God and I tell him to take care of the health of both teams because the worse thing for a sportsman are injuries and there are a lot of accidents on the pitch that nobody wants.”
A technically gifted goal poacher, he has been compared with the likes of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer time and again, a comparison which the humble Mexican is proud of.
“It’s great to hear and it’s good motivation for me, but I know I need to work a lot to be like him.” – Hernandez
PS: Solskajer scored 19 in his debut season at United, Hernandez has scored 20 with 3 games left.
At 22, Hernandez has had an exceptional season with United and rumors are rife that Jose Mourinho wants him at Real Madrid. United administration was quick to react and many newspapers reported that they are ready to offer him a new improved 5 year contract.
Much has been said about Hernandez from his team mates. But when Sir Alex (who is usually short of words when it comes out to pick a single player) or an opposition manager or a legend like Pele comes out and praises you, then you are a phenomenon.
“There is no doubt that Hernandez is a promising player. He is excellent, I have seen some games of his on television and he is a fantastic footballer. He could be the next Messi because he has great talent.” – Pele,the man who netted over 1250 goals in his career
“Hernandez is fantastic at taking up positions inside the penalty box. It is natural. He has the instinct to move around and his timing is terrific. There have only been a few top strikers who have had that quality. Ole was one and Gary Lineker probably never scored a good goal in his life, but he was always in space. He’d get rebounds off goalkeepers and was always in really good areas. I remember after Paul Scholes had seen him in training, he said the lad would get 20 goals for us as a sub. He’s not quite achieved that but there are three games to go!” – Sir Alex
“Hernandez has been exceptional. He was on our radar – we knew him but I do not want to go into that. He has had a great season.” – Arsene Wenger
“He looks like the sort of player who will go on to be a success for many seasons at Old Trafford because he has a love of the game. He plays on the edge, hanging on the shoulder of the last defender. He makes it difficult for opponents and assistant referees – as we saw twice against Chelsea.” – Harry Redknapp
“You are always in with a chance when you have a goal scorer like Javier in your team. He has made a fantastic impact, on and off the pitch. His English is perfect, which has helped, and his goal just sums up his season. He deserves everything that has been said about him.” – Ryan Giggs
“He is a great finisher and a really nice lad. He is always on the training pitch, trying to improve, which is nice to see and shows his dedication. He always has a smile on his face and enjoys his football. He has done really well in his first season and won us a few games. He has scored some important goals already. Hopefully he will continue to do that for years to come.” – Wayne Rooney
Hernandez’ first season unplugged:
First 21 appearances
Starts: 42%; Subs: 58%; Goals: 9
Last 22 appearances
Starts: 68%; Subs: 32%; Goals: 12
How Hernandez scores
Head: 6; Right foot: 11; Left foot: 3
Results when Hernandez scores
Won 15; Drawn 1; Lost 1