Speedy Hernandez ready to race in red
A thirty-something Mexican was poignantly aware how badly one preteen wanted to become a professional footballer. The worldly señor had repeatedly listened to the budding forward's ambitions; the rare, incurable desire in the latter's maturing voice auto-repeated in the mind of his elder when they were apart.
The pair had spent innumerable hours kicking a ball around on an exclusive plot of land in Jalisco. The adult had scrutinized the youngster’s game. He had, begrudgingly, reached a conclusion: that Javier Hernandez, who had joined national giants Guadalajara at the age of nine, would not make the grade.
The fact that verdict came from somebody whose international career had spanned over a decade suggested the aspirant faced an uphill struggle to realise his goal; the fact that it came from the youngster’s father, who would naturally be biased, indicated that it was a pipe dream.
Dad nevertheless kept his premonition silent. Son duly pursued his dream. By the age of 20, however, Javier Hernandez Jr had come to agree with Javier Hernandez Sr’s foretaste. He had made just 16 first-team appearances for Chivas in the previous two campaigns, failing to score a single goal in the process. He was seemingly imprisoned in the club’s reserves. The thought of continuing down the same path was becoming more and more dispiriting; the option of returning to his studies was escalating in appeal.
By now, though, his father and grandfather, another former Mexico international Tomas Balcazar, had become convinced that Hernandez had the makings of top-class player. “He doubted whether he was capable of playing in the first division,” recalled Hernandez Sr. “He was considering quitting, but we persuaded him to stick at it.”
That persistence has, just two years down the road, been emphatically vindicated. Hernandez has since finished as the joint-top scorer in the Bicentenario 2010, scored nine goals in 16 internationals, excelled at the FIFA World Cup™, and become the first Mexican to join Manchester United.
The Red Devils intuitively concluded a deal for El Chicharito (The Little Pea) in April – had they waited until after South Africa 2010, the transfer fee would have surely dwarfed the £7m they reportedly paid to prise him from Guadalajara, given that he was a revelation of the tournament.
Hernandez came on as a 73rd-minute substitute in Mexico’s curtain-raiser, helping his side, who were trailing, earn a 1-1 draw. Then, after rising from the bench with the deadlock intact against France, he played a one-two with Rafael Marquez - cutely springing the offside trap in the process - rounded goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, and slotted home the opener en route to a 2-0 victory.
The No14 also impressed after coming on just after the hour mark in a 1-0 loss to Uruguay, before he scored El Tri’s goal in a 3-1 defeat by Argentina, turning his marker with a sublime flick on the edge of the area, holding off another defender, and thumping the ball into the top corner from the left side of the penalty area.
“He did very well,” said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. “I was very pleased with his performance. I think we’re going to have a positive effect from Javier.”
Hernandez has certainly made a good impression since joining up with his new team-mates on their pre-season tour of North America; one which will conclude with a friendly against his old club in Jalisco on 31 July. "He looks really sharp, really hungry,” said midfielder Darren Fletcher. “He scored a couple of great goals at the World Cup and I think he'll be a good addition.”
Defender John O’Shea added: “Hernandez is going to be a wild card for us. He’s looked very sharp so far, and I think he’ll cause lots of problems for defenders and score a few goals.”
Not that the 22-year-old’s game is exclusive to finishing - he possesses the ability to beat a man, cerebral movement, a high-jumper’s leap and sprinter’s pace. The latter quality, in a league in which the likes of Les Ferdinand, Michael Owen during his time at Liverpool, Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka have used speed to devastate defences, could be especially refreshing to United supporters.
For while they have witnessed some brilliant players at their spearhead during Ferguson’s enduring reign, they have not had one regular first-team striker with exceptional pace: Peter Davenport, Brian McClair, Mark Hughes, Eric Cantona, Paul Scholes (he began his career up front), Andy Cole, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Teddy Sheringham, Dwight Yorke, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Dimitar Berbatov and today’s decelerated model of Owen are all unworthy of that bracket, while Louis Saha never once started half of the Red Devils’ games during a Premier League season and Cristiano Ronaldo was invariably deployed on the wing.
El Chicharito is, however, an authentic version of the Warner Brothers cartoon character Speedy Gonzalez, 'the fastest mouse in all of Mexico'. The 32.15 km/h at which he was clocked during South Africa 2010 – faster than any other player at the tournament - pays testament to that. It is the speed at which Javier Hernandez has hurtled from the cusp of premature retirement to prestigious stages such as the FIFA World Cup and the Theatre of Dreams. Could it be the ingredient that helps Manchester United win the race for the 2010/11 Premier League title?