When Mexico’s Javier Hernandéz takes to the Wembley field tonight it’ll be the first opportunity given to most Manchester United supporters to assess the striker’s ability ahead of a July move to Old Trafford. The £7 million forward, signed from Chivas Guadalahara in April, is likely to start tonight’s friendly with England at the national stadium.
Hernandéz, in Mexico’s 30-man provisional squad for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa this summer, has already scored four times in seven matches during the 21-year-old’s blossoming international career. Granted friendlies against Bolivia, New Zealand and North Korea may not reach the heights of the World Cup this summer but Hernandéz’ performances are such that he will carry the scoring burden for the talented Mexicans into the tournament.
The Guadalajara-born striker comes with a strong family pedigree in international football too, with Hernández’ namesake father a member of Mexico’s World Cup squad in 1986 and grandfather at the 1954 tournament.
Nicknamed Chicharito – the little pea – Hernández will come face-to-face with new team-mates Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick tonight, with the trio probably asked to start by Fabio Capello in an experimental home line-up.
The Italian’s side start as favourites but the well-drilled Mexicans – playing a ninth friendly of the year – should provide stiff opposition on Wembley’s cabbage-patch pitch.
While Capello assesses the fitness and form of the United squad members in his group, supporters closer to Old Trafford will have their eyes on Chicarito, with the over-reliance on Rooney all too clear during the closing weeks of last season.
The 5′ 7″ striker is a man in form, with 21 goals in 28 club appearances this season but speaks with the reverential air of a player not yet comfortable with his new-found celebrity status.
“I got goose-bumps when I realised I would be joining Manchester United,” Hernandez told reporters this week.
“These are the things you dream about. I longed for a move to Europe when I was a kid watching lots of football on television. In Mexico, United have a huge following.
“Suddenly I’m going to be playing with the players I know from PlayStation and television. I’m living a dream. I thank God I am living it.
“I’m just full of gratitude to those who helped me accomplish this. I want to do great things here.”
Yet the striker may need to lose his inhibitions if he is to make an impact on the bigger international stage and at Old Trafford next season. With incoming transfers limited, Hernandéz will start as one of seven strikers on United’s books next season.
Rooney’s place in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side is assured of course but question marks hang over five other competitors for a striking berth at Old Trafford. Dimitar Berbatov’s goalscoring problems are well documented, while Mame Biram Diouf, Danny Welbeck, Michael Owen and Federico Macheda all found their campaigns disrupted by injury.
Hernandéz is likely to start United’s campaign as first back-up to Rooney, Berbatov and Owen, with Mexico’s tough World Cup group offering the striker a potential berth in the Reds’ North American tour this summer. Ferguson will give all World Cup players 28 days off but with Mexico drawn against France, Uruguay and hosts South Africa an early exit is not unrealistic.
Indeed, the 21-year-old may need to grab that opportunity if he is not to befall the fate of so many young strikers at Old Trafford. Supporters tonight will get a first chance to pass their own judgement.