He ran all night and chased every loose ball, but the fairytale ending to Javier Hernández’s first season at Manchester United ultimately came the moment that the team-sheets were handed in before the game
By Mark Ogden
Ousting Dimitar Berbatov from the starting XI and leaving Manchester United’s club record signing to pick up the wooden spoon in his battle with Michael Owen for a place on the bench is an achievement in itself for the Mexican.
Perhaps it was expecting too much to think Hernández could actually top that, 12 months after arriving as a £6 million unknown from Chivas de Guadalajara, by scoring a decisive goal against Barcelona to win United’s fourth European Cup.
Sir Alex Ferguson signed Hernández when it became clear that David Villa would not consider leaving Valencia for Old Trafford just over a year ago.
Villa instead completed a £34 million transfer to Barcelona and, as the Wembley scoreboard showed, his goal proved to be the one that settled this Champions League final.
Hernández had already secured his prize, by keeping Berbatov out of the team.Berbatov might hold the distinction of ending the 2010-11 season as United’s leading goalscorer, but the Bulgarian’s problem is that has proven to be distinctly B-list this campaign.
He has rattled in goals against Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton and Birmingham, but Barcelona? The cold, hard facts suggested that was never going to happen.
Considering that the £30.75 million forward has gone 1134 minutes without a Champions League goal, Ferguson clearly realised long ago that the enigmatic forward is not the man for the big occasion.
Berbatov lacks the pace that Hernández brings to the equation. Few players can rival the 22-year-old Mexican’s explosive speed over 10 yards, but Berbatov actually takes 10 yards to build up a head of steam, so he was hardly going to satisfy Ferguson’s demand for his forwards to chase down and pressurise the Barcelona defenders.
Hernández’s energy and industry is a given. There were just two minutes on the clock when he jolted Gerard Pique into action by chasing a loose ball, winning it and delivering it into the Barca penalty area.
The chance came to nothing, but it was a marker laid down. From that point on, Gerard Pique and central defensive partner Javier Mascherano knew they would be afforded no time whatsoever to amble forward and pick a pass.
Bob Paisley, the former Liverpool manager whose three European Cups keep him clear of Ferguson’s two, often remarked that his team’s best defender was not Alan Hansen or Mark Lawrenson but Ian Rush, the prolific goalscorer.
At times, Hernández resembled Rush as he scampered across the Barcelona 18-yard line. Scampering comes naturally to him, yet Berbatov has probably never scampered since he laced up his first pair of boots.
As Graeme Souness, Liverpool’s 1984 European Cup-winning captain remarked, Berbatov’s failure to even make the substitutes’ bench was an ”almighty blow’’ for the former Tottenham striker.
Ferguson seems to relish big calls on big occasions, however.
Jim Leighton’s career never recovered after being dropped in favour of Les Sealey for the 1990 FA Cup final replay against Crystal Palace, while Steve Bruce, a loyal servant and captain, had his Old Trafford career ended by Ferguson omitting him from the squad for the 1996 FA Cup final against Liverpool.
Berbatov might regard being overlooked in favour of Owen as a bridge too far. Yet Owen, with just one league start all season, impressed Ferguson by scoring as a substitute against Blackpool and that added threat from the bench earned him the nod.