- Mexico's Javier Hernandez explains his more versatile role as a footballer
- 'Chicharito' relishing Thursday's semi-final clash against Germany
- Hernandez plays his club football in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen
When Javier Hernandez first arrived in Europe, fans marvelled at his finishing ability. Somehow, he always managed to put the ball into the back of the net, sometimes by the most inexplicable of means. If, at that point, football observers had been asked to describe the clinical Mexican by using just one word, they may simply have said 'goalscorer'.
What would those same observers think while watching him at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017? The former Real Madrid man appears to have practically converted himself into a kind of box-to-box midfielder, one who plays a part in building an attack and even wins the ball back, once it is has been lost.
Of course, all this is in addition to his unerring scoring ability, which still enabled him to notch one of his country’s goals against Portugal with a typically opportunistic header.
Where, then, has this new 'Chicharito' come from? On the eve of Mexico’s crucial Confederations Cup semi-final with Germany, the man in question came straight to the point when asked about it by FIFA.com. “It was a matter of survival,” he said.
If intrigued fans were to rewind a recording of that Group A clash with the Portuguese and simply focus their attention on El Tri’s left flank, ignoring the name and number on the jersey, they would see a complete footballer pulling off 75 per cent of his passes, running back almost the entire length of the pitch to regain possession in the last few minutes, and bursting into the box to score at just the right moment.
This is the 2017 version of Javier Hernandez. “Not a goalscorer, just a footballer,” explained the Mexico No14, adding that the transformation has taken several years and occurred somewhat naturally. “Something I learned from the very best coaches in the world is that players must be able to adapt to different circumstances and work things to their advantage.
“At every club, I’ve tried to adapt to my team’s needs. It wasn’t really planned, but the idea was to make the most of things and make myself stand out within the squad. I’m not the tallest player, or the strongest, and maybe not even the fastest either, and so I’ve had to find a way to distinguish myself from other players; it’s almost been a matter of survival.”
Hernandez’s metamorphosis could not have come at a better time. On Thursday, in the last four of Russia 2017, Mexico face Germany, a country the dynamic forward knows well, having starred for Bayer Leverkusen in the German Bundesliga for the past two seasons.
“Obviously, playing against the team that represents my adopted country will be a very special moment, not just for me, but for the whole team,” he said. “It’s not every day that you get to play against the world champions – and with a place in a final up for grabs as well. We’re extremely motivated.”
If history is anything to go by, the match should present a tough assignment for Mexico. In ten previous meetings, the CONCACAF side has only secured victory on one occasion, a record that does not dampen Hernandez’s enthusiasm nor, according to him, strike fear into the hearts of the Mexican players.
“Football is a great game because you always have the chance to bring a bad run to an end,” he stated. “We’re going to take the game to Germany and we’re not going to change our style of play. Obviously, we want to work on our weaknesses, but our attacking play has enabled us to pick up some good results. Why would we change that?”
If the Mexicans plan to bravely attack the world champions, what role will 'Chicharito' *play in the encounter – *forward, left wing, midfielder? “I just want to play football: as much of the match as possible, and from the start,” he said with a grin. “My position? It doesn’t matter! Besides, coach [Juan Carlos] Osorio explains his tactics well and gets you to understand. A logical game plan always makes everything a bit easier, so wherever I end up playing, I’ll be happy.”