Javier Hernández’ début in a Manchester United shirt comes tonight as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side takes on an MLS All-Star XI in Houston. The match, the Reds’ fourth on this summer’s tour, will offer the 22-year-old Mexican a brief taste of life in a United shirt after the striker trained with the squad for the first time yesterday morning.
Hernández is unlikely to start though as United seeks to regain momentum lost after the 2-1 defeat to Kansas City Wizards on Sunday night. Indeed, the Mexican is likely to appear as a late second half substitute after the single training session yesterday, with the striker offered a long summer break post World Cup.
Signed for £7 million without fanfare in April, Hernández’ performance in South Africa, where the former Chivas Guadalajara striker scored twice against France and then Argentina, has already set high expectations of immediate success in Manchester.
The pressure was hardly eased yesterday, with Ferguson bragging that United could have paid three times the £7 million fee had the deal been concluded after the tournament. It is a message also underscored by former United great Bobby Charlton, who expressed his “great excitement” about the player during yesterday’s training session.
Supporters though should be wary, with the striker’s inexperience compounding a move across continents that will require a potentially lengthy period of integration into Premier League football. After all, another South American – Diego Forlan – failed to score in a United shirt for more than 20 games before leaving the club at a knock-down price. Today, Forlan is widely regarded as one of the World’s leading strikers.
It’s a challenge Ferguson at least recognises, with tonight’s game not only a chance for the US public to glimpse United’s newest star but a first step on a long road towards integration.
“He joined us today and so we have to ascertain what he has been doing in the last few weeks physically, we would like to use him in part of the game on Wednesday – partly because I know there is a big Mexican population in Houston and it would be a very exciting attraction for them,” Ferguson said in Houston before taking his squad on a tour of NASA’a HQ.
“Secondly we want to try to integrate him into the team as quickly as possible so those are the reasons we would like to play him but we want to just have a chat with him and see what he has been doing physically – I don’t think it would be wise to play him without having any real preparation for this game.”
Hernández though is remaining grounded despite high praise from the United camp and a palpable sense of expectation among United’s support both in the US and back home. Indeed, the striker is mindful of the challenges that have faced compatriots Giovanni dos Santos and Carlos Vella on English soil in recent seasons.
“I have spoken to them and they are definitely happy for me and they know that this is the most powerful league in the world,” said Hernández.
“They tell me to take advantage of the situation and I should thank God for the opportunity.
“I always try to see pressure in a different way – more like motivation. There are millions of people in the world who would do anything to be in my position and have this opportunity.
“It’s an honour because I want to achieve big things. It’s a very nice challenge and hopefully I will be able to contribute.
“I will always try to enjoy it because sometimes we focus so much on the achievements and our dreams, and maybe we forget to enjoy it.”
The MLS game arguably offers United the toughest fixture of the pre-season programme, with American star Landon Donovan leading the All-Stars attacking line-up. A Premier League side has never beaten the MLS’ All-Star team on US soil, although UK-based United fans will have to stay up late to see if United can buck the trend with the game kicking off at 1.30am Thursday morning.
Hernández will then play the full 90 minutes of United’s fixture with Chivas Guadalajara in Mexico on Friday night – with a half played in the shirt of each club as part of the deal that brought the striker to Europe – before the squad flies to Dublin on Saturday for a fixture against a League of Ireland XI.
It is there, in Dublin, that United’s tour squad will meet up with the club’s other World Cup players for the first time this summer. Wayne Rooney, Patrice Evra and co, have been on a punishing accelerated fitness programme back at Carrington this week.
They will, no doubt, have developed a thirst for the black stuff by then.