Tag Javier Hernández

Tag Javier Hernández

Chicharito’s last stand

Ed June 8, 2013 Tags: Opinion 2 comments
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How typically Javier Hernández, stealing across his central defensive marker to score at the near post. The Mexican did it twice on Friday night, netting his first with the instep to the goalkeeper’s right, and then a flicking neatly over his opponent with the outside of his boot to earn a 2-2 draw with Nigeria in Houston. Friendly it may have been, but the old instincts die-hard; Hernández has always been an outstanding finisher.

The international double came just a day ahead of Chicharito’s birthday, with the striker turning 25 on Saturday. And with the brace he secured his 32nd international goal in just 47 appearances – continuing a remarkable scoring record during four years as a senior international.

Jared Borgetti’s Mexican record of 46 in 89 appearances for El Tricolor will surely be broken – possibly before World Cup 2014 is over, with the player also featuring in the Confederations Cup this summer.

Yet, no longer the fresh-faced boy who arrived at Old Trafford shortly after the 2010 World Cup, Hernández faces a potentially career-defining choice this summer; stick  at Manchester United with a new manager at the helm, and potentially fresh opportunities arising, or twist in search of more regular football, probably on the continent.

Indeed, the striker started just nine Premier League games in the campaign just concluded – 22 in all competitions –  far too few for a player whose finishing quality has oft been lauded by former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

In fact the Mexican’s position at United’s became even more marginal towards the denouement of Ferguson’s reign. Hernández started and finished just two of United’s last 10 matches this season – the dead rubber on the final day of the campaign and the FA Cup replay with Chelsea. Worse, Hernández was afforded less than 15 minutes on the pitch in each of his last four substitute appearances for the Reds.

With Robin van Persie prefered at number nine, Wayne Rooney in the deeper role at 10, and Danny Welbeck the most flexible of United’s quartet of strikers, it is perhaps unsurprising Hernández has found game-time increasingly sparse.

It comes as little shock, then, that the vultures are circling on the continent; Juventus the latest club reportedly interested in adding the Mexican to its roster next season. Long-time admirers Real Madrid and neighbours Atlético – in search of Radamel Falcao’s replacement – might also seek to prize away United’s fourth-choice forward this summer.

Relocation away from Manchester might suit the striker too –  there is little satisfaction to be gained sitting on the bench for around two-thirds of the season even if United continues to challenge on all fronts.

Hernández’ nightmare scenario, if he continues to spend more time on the club bench than off it, is losing his place in the national team ahead of next summer’s World Cup – perhaps t0 Aldo de Nigris, youngster Raúl Jiménez or veteran Omar Bravo.

Still, Ferguson’s decision to acquire the unheralded 21-year-old prior to World Cup 2010 proved inspired. It also afford Hernández his first shot at European football; a fact that has secured the Mexican’s loyalty despite the rapid rise to fame.

“The impact Sir Alex has had on me is massive,” admitted the striker recently.

“He gave me this big chance to play at the biggest club in the world. He has taught me a lot and I only have thankful words for him. I have won two league titles in three years and played in the Champions League final.

“Of course I would love to start more often but I will keep the same attitude. When the gaffer wants me on the bench or the starting line-up I will do my best. My attitude is going to be very good because I want to respect the club.”

Not one to rock the boat, Hernández is unlikely to push for a transfer this summer, but with the debt of loyalty to Ferguson now broken, nor are the ties to the club as strong as they once were. No longer is it unthinkable that the Little Pea moves on.

Moreover, with  David Moyes typically preferring a single-striker system, Hernández will likely see no increase in match time under the new manager than he has in the past three seasons.

After all, van Persie is a prerequisite leading the line, while Chicharito is really only effective playing ahead of a deeper lying partner. It means the Mexican is always likely to be the Dutchman’s understudy if Moyes repeats the tactical system deployed at Goodison Park, where Marouane Fellaini was deployed deep behind Nikica Jelavić.

Even if Rooney departs this summer it is Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa, who is desperate for an opportunity in his natural role at ’10’, that will likely benefit the most.

In this Hernández suffers for being the least flexible of United’s front four; a natural finisher usurped by those who offer a more rounded contribution. It is a developmental waypoint that outgoing manager Ferguson identified as the campaign came to a close.

“I hope he feels he’s made a contribution because we all feel he’s done that,” said Ferguson.

“His enthusiasm is always there and there’s no reason to think that this isn’t the place for him. Maturity also finds players every summer and he’s old enough to mature, obviously.”

Certainly, the player has become more confident in his contrition outside the box in three years at Old Trafford. From the player who often tried too hard by coming deep, to one that successfully finds his team-mate with 77 per cent of passes in opponent’s half.

But it is with 18 goals in all competitions this season that Hernández’ contributed most, whatever the growth in his game. Moyes is surely loathe to forego a player who scored key goals against SC Braga, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Newcastle and Swansea City during the campaign.

And at just 72 minutes per Premier League goal involvement, including 10 goals and three assists, Hernández boasts by far the best rate of any player to have scored 10 or more during the league season. It is a record that should prompt the new manager to eke at least one more season out of the Mexican, whatever the temptations on offer from clubs abroad.

Striking comforts in a burden shared

Ed November 11, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 11 comments

There is a temptation in familiarity; to paint large brush strokes, to pigeon-hole, to find a box of mutual convenience. This is true of football, a sport in which punditry of the vanilla so dominates; perhaps more so than in any other mass cultural event. In this there can be no surprise that Manchester United’s summer signing, Dutchman Robin van Persie, has brought inevitable comparison with a compatriot of yesteryear.

It shouldn’t take the former Arsenal striker long to break out of this metaphorical confinement though, not in fashion that van Persie has begun his United career, with 11 goals in 15 games. For the record, it took Ruud van Nistelrooy 19 games to reach the same tally.

van Persie may not have scored in United’s 3-2 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday evening, but the 29-year-old did almost everything short – striking the bar with a bullet header, and then again with a fierce long-range drive in the second period. Indeed, while Javier Hernández saved United’s considerable blushes at Villa Park with a second-half hat-trick – dubious goals panel pending – it is van Persie who remains central to the Reds’ success or failure in the months ahead.

Fortune is a little short of the ideal expression given United’s lavish expenditure on the Dutchman, but Sir Alex Ferguson will certainly feel capricious – van Persie has been pivotal in the Scot’s team securing 16 points from losing positions this season.

“His confidence is just sky-high at the moment,” observes United veteran Ryan Giggs.

“I read last week that a lot of the players think he’s similar to Ruud in the respect that Ruud used to get a chance and more often than not he’d put them away. That’s the case with Robin at the minute; his confidence is high, we’re creating chances for him and he’s putting them away.”

van Persie, together with Wayne Rooney, and Hernández, must continue the pattern, especially given United’s woeful defending this season. It takes not a cynic to observe that Ferguson’s call for his team to score 100 Premier League goals this season may be short if his team continues to play in a fashion that invites goals at the other end. Villa Park was no exception.

Despite the tragic-comic nature of United’s defending Ferguson will feel comfort in Chicharito’s return to form in recent weeks. van Persie’s rapid integration into the Old Trafford scene had begun feel like a dependent relationship – and not of the mutual kind.

Goals spread around the side offers comfort, with Ferguson expecting more than 60 strikes between his leading men this season, as United seek to win from the front whatever the consequences at the back.

“I don’t think it’s a problem relying on Robin,” adds Ferguson. “The way Javier has started this season, I’m certain he will get to 20 goals plus. Wazza will get there too, he’ll get 20 goals plus I’m sure. It’s a healthy combination we’ve got there.”

Yet, it is van Persie who is now expected to strike against the very best in the months ahead – a burden bestowed not by his manager, but from the striker’s peers at Old Trafford. The Dutchman is now a lionised figure in a United dressing room packed with seasoned internationals.

“I think he’s great for the whole team; he’s our talisman,” admits Rooney, who had previously held that particular moniker. “He has a calmness about him. We have to try and get players around him.”

In Birmingham, on Saturday night, van Persie once again led United’s forward line effectively, although with little personal luck. On this occasion it mattered little as United came from two goals down to secure a four-point Premier League lead, with Hernández bringing a stunning conclusion to the game late in the second period.

United should never have been so troubled by a mediocre Villa side, but such is the way this season, with the Reds seemingly content to play every match as a cup tie of folklore.

“It reminded us of a cup game here a few years ago when we were 2-0 down,” said Ferguson of United’s latest victory comeback.

“I think van Nistelrooy scored a couple and we won 3-2. We were disappointed with the first-half performance, it has to be said. You had to give credit to Aston Villa, they never gave us a minute’s peace on the ball. When they got the second goal we were up against it, but once we scored our first goal, you always felt they were going to do it.”

United’s won’t “always do it” of course, not against domestic and European opponents of a higher quality. In that there is a salutary lesson; admirable though Ferguson’s commitment to attacking football is this campaign, there has rarely – if ever – been a successful side whose basic defensive make-up is so lacking.

No wonder Ferguson is relying on United’s spirit where technique and tactics is sometimes wanting. “The tenacity of our performance,” lauded Ferguson on Saturday, “was really brilliant.”

In this van Persie has also become pivotal. At Braga, in midweek, van Persie’s introduction reshaped – and refocused –  Ferguson’s side as United once again came from behind; during the second period at Villa the Dutchman’s movement proffered Hernández the space to fire the Reds back into the game.

There is a warning though. In Portugal United’s attacking play was blunt for an hour without the Dutchman. For all the inherent firepower, United may still need to find a way to score without the now talismanic forward.

Hernández’ impressive haul in the Midlands is certainly a positive start; the beginnings of a burden better shared.

Welbeck told to hit 20 in fight for United place

Ed July 19, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 21 comments

Danny Welbeck can barely have wished for a better first full campaign in Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. Having returned from a year on loan at Sunderland the Longsight-born striker made 39 appearances for Manchester United last term, 27 of them starts, scoring 12 goals in all competitions. Now, Ferguson has set Welbeck a new task; to score more than 20 in the coming Premier League season. It’s a challenge Welbeck is certainly capable of, but only if the 21-year-old earns sufficient game time.

Indeed, even with Michael Owen leaving the club this summer, and Dimitar Berbatov set to remain on the periphery or depart Old Trafford, Sir Alex must still crowbar four players into two forward spots, whatever the system.

Shinji Kagawa’s acquisition for up to £17 million from Borussia Dortmund means that Ferguson is still likely to rotate a quartet of attacking players in just two roles, whether deploying the 4-4-1-1 system so often seen last season, or the much discussed 4-2-3-1 that seemingly suits Kagawa’s talents.

Moreover, with Javier Hernández likely to hit the ground running after a summer of rest and a full pre-season, there is no guarantee that Welbeck will start the new campaign in Ferguson’s team. With Welbeck unlikely to join the tour party until Ferguson’s squad returns to Europe in August the onus is on Chicharito, Kagawa, and perhaps even Berbatov, to stake their respective claims.

Still, Ferguson’s belief in Welbeck has seemingly been enhanced by the striker’s showing at Euro 2012, where the England number nine scored once – a superb back-heel against Sweden – in four appearances, and walked away from the tournament reputation enhanced.

“If you look at the games he played for England at the Euros, he’s never played three games in seven days before, well certainly not for us,” said Ferguson of a player whom he has seen grow into the United shirt.

“So he did really well in that respect. That’s where maturity and development comes in. We’ve fostered him. He’s always had growth spurts and things like that, so we fostered him right that period when he was developing. I don’t think he’s got his full body yet. I think there’s a lot of growth in him yet. I don’t think he’ll get taller, he’s 6ft 3ins now.

“He’s very powerful and, once that growth thing stops, I think you’ll find he can play three games in seven games. There won’t be a problem with that. He’s got good movement, courage and confidence with the ball.

“Obviously, he will have to improve his goalscoring. I think he got nine goals last season but if you are going to be a top striker you have to get 20 goals or above. That will happen to him, I think he will do that.”

In the meantime Welbeck’s brothers, added Ferguson, continue to negotiate a new contract for the striker, with player and club seemingly at an impasse over the deal. Few expect Welbeck to walk away from Old Trafford when his contract ends in just under a year’s time, but it cannot help but play on the striker’s mind.

Meanwhile, Welbeck will have little hope of unseating Rooney from the first team – the player with whom he struck up a fine partnership last season – leaving three seeking, realistically, a single spot, at least for United’s bigger games. Especially with Rooney so productive last season, even in a deeper role.

“Where Wayne has improved is his consistency in scoring goals,” Ferguson told PA Sport.

“He got 32 goals last season and that has made a difference to his game. It’s difficult to say whether he is at a peak or not but his goalscoring has certainly given us more of a reward.”

Meanwhile, Kagawa, who played around four minutes of United’s friendly victory over AmaZulu FC in Durban on Wednesday night, is seeking what was, last season at least, Rooney’s deep-lying forward role in Ferguson’s side. Either that, or Sir Alex will do as Sir Alex does and push the Japanese play-maker into a wide position.

However, assuming Kagawa isn’t wasted on the wing, the 23-year-old’s best hope of playing a pivotal role in United’s upcoming campaign is to force Welbeck onto the sidelines. Something has to give.

Kagawa is likely to start United’s fixture against Cape Town Ajax this coming Saturday as Ferguson rotates his limited tour resources before United depart for China.

“I’ve joined the club but I’ve not shown my potential yet, so this is my first mission and I hope I can show all the supporters what I am able to do,” Kagawa added after coming on as a late substitute on Wednesday.

“This is a great club and I’m looking forward to playing. I have to prove myself on the pitch.”

Welbeck could say the same, despite the positive showing last time out. After all, while 12 goals is a decent return, a one-in-three strike-rate is unlikely to ensure the youngster remains a starter in United’s biggest fixtures. The challenge for Welbeck is to step up a level, adding a lethal streak to the undoubtedly quality on the ball that the striker has developed over the past two campaigns.

Yet, with Hernández and Kagawa snapping at his heals, it is a challenge that Welbeck will do well to meet over the coming season. Perhaps the biggest task of a fledgling career to date.

From striking riches, to striking woes

Ed December 5, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 18 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson began the season with seven strikers; the Scot could end the year with just three, and none of them currently in scintillating form. Injuries leave Ferguson with just two senior strikers for Manchester United’s visit to FC Basel in the Champions League this week – Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck – but potential departures may reduce the Scot’s options even further come January. It is a concern for which there is no easy fix as United continues to grind out single-goal results.

Javier Hernandez’ sickening and unfortunate injury during the Reds’ 1-0 victory at Aston Villa on Saturday has reduced the Scot’s attacking options, with Michael Owen also on the sidelines until the New Year, and Dimitar Berbatov missing the next fortnight after suffering a recurrence of an old ankle injury against Crystal Palace. The early injury to Hernandez, who rolled over on his left ankle and is believed to have torn ligaments, will keep the Mexican out of action for at least a month, according to Ferguson. But that could be an optimistic prognosis; those who have suffered similar injuries, including Robin van Persie and Jack Rodwell in recent seasons, spent far longer on the sidelines.

Meanwhile, Owen, who strained his left hamstring in United’s 2-0 Champions League win over Otelul Galati at Old Trafford, is unlikely to play again this side of a busy Christmas programme. With Berbatov set to miss matches against Basel and Wolverhampton Wanderers, Ferguson will fall back on Welbeck, who has only just returned from injury, to partner the misfiring Rooney in Switzerland.

Still, Ferguson chose to reflect on the positives from United’s controlled but ultimately narrow victory over Villa on Saturday evening.

“I thought we deserved the victory. We had great possession at times and I think we were a bit wasteful with chances we had in the second half,” said Ferguson of United’s victory at Villa Park.

“But a win away from home at Villa Park – which is always a difficult place to come – is a good result so we are happy. I think we should be finishing games off and I’d like to do that, but the one good thing is our concentration levels away from home. I thought we controlled the game. Some of our football was good, there were some good performances from the lads and there was a good rhythm in our game. Yes, we could do better in the finishing department but I think consistency will help us in terms of confidence.”

Injuries will do little to help United’s attacking rhythm though, with Ferguson’s side having scored just once in each of the last seven Premier League games since derby defeat to Manchester City in October. It is a period in which Rooney has failed to hit the net, although the 26-year-old Scouser has frequently been deployed in central midfield.

Attacking injury problems could open the door to Mame Biram Diouf and Federico Macheda. Yet, neither made the bench for United’s fixture at Villa, or indeed, has started a game in the Premier League this season, and Ferguson is expected to sell or loan the pair come January. With just 16 matches remaining in the reserve season it will aid neither man to remain at the club.

“The problem is the type of reserve league we have now, it’s really a youth league, and that is a big problem,” added Ferguson after defeat to Palace last week.

“It bothers me in the sense that the level of training we do was let down. For us it was Rafael’s first game, Darron Gibson’s first game, Mame Diouf’s only played four games this season, Macheda only his third game. That’s not enough football to play in the quarter-final of a League Cup I’m afraid. That caught us and I was surprised of the level of fitness of Crystal Palace against us. In terms of match play we were certainly short.

“[Loans] work well for all young players to get game time and that’s what we are looking at for Macheda and Diouf, they need game time, there is no question about that. Every young players wants to play and we have to give them that opportunity.”

Yet, while Macheda remains in Ferguson’s long-term plans, it is surprising Diouf has any future at the club nearly two years after joining for around £3.5 million. In that period the Senegalese striker has made nine United appearances, scoring one goal. In between joining and last month’s disaster against Palace there was the unsuccessful loan spell at Blackburn Rovers, where Diouf scored six times in 26 games. Three of those came in a Carling Cup tie against then Championship side Norwich. Ferguson is unlikely to make any return on the investment.

Macheda, meanwhile, played only his second senior match for the club in the past year against the Championship side. The Italian is still only 20, but suffered for a six month loan spell at Sampdoria, with i Blucerchiati relegated to Serie B at the end of last season. These likely departures leaves Ferguson hoping that his injured senior strikers return soon, and that they hit the ground running.

Chicho earns contract reward, now the hard bit

Ed October 13, 2011 Tags: Opinion 7 comments

Javier Hernández will sign a generous new contract that will make the 23-year-old a multimillionaire according to the player’s agent. The deal is reward for an outstanding first season at the club and protection from overseas predators. Indeed, with Real Madrid reportedly sniffing around the player, Manchester United has moved to quickly bring Hernandez’ pay in line with more senior earners at the club. The Mexican becomes the 13th squad member to sign a contract extension in the past year as Sir Alex Ferguson continues to evolve his resources.

But with Hernández suffering a difficult start to the new campaign after a curtailed pre-season, injury against Chelsea and international commitments, the really hard work starts now. No longer the new kid on the block, Hernández’ strengths and weaknesses are well known. Now, with an £80,000-per-week contract freshly inked, Hernández faces an all new kind of pressure: one to justify the faith, and another to exceed ever inflated expectations.

“We have renegotiated Javier’s contract and he is now committed for five years with Manchester United,” said agent Eduardo Hernández.

“The initial contract was good for Manchester and for Javier because it enabled them both to see if they could fit together and if he could achieve what was expected of him. Both sides have met their expectations and United were happy to reward Javier after his very good performances last season.

“I will not talk about numbers, but it is a five-year contract. It is a fixed salary with incentives based on the team’s success in each of the different tournaments. Javier was not badly paid with his initial contract, but it was his first contract and, with respect, not comparable with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Nani. But today, I can say that the contract has just been signed and everyone is satisfied.”

Hernández scored 20 goals in 45 games last season following a £7 million transfer from Chivas Guadalajara last summer, a stunning performance all the more remarkable for a player brand new to European football. But that performance, and the positive words of Sir Alex Ferguson have raised expectations of an even more dynamic second season at Old Trafford. Indeed, the media and supporter criticism of the player is likely to be felt should the youngster suffer anything close to the clichéd ‘second season syndrome’.

Yet, there is something in the player’s personality – both charming and determined – that suggests United’s marksman will not be long the relative doldrums. After all, any challenges to date this season have not been of the Mexicans own making. Hernández suffered concussion on United’s pre-season tour of the United States, which he began late after the Gold Cup in any case. Then a shin injury, dead-leg and two bouts of international fixtures have helped little in the Mexican’s search for rhythm. The latest trip, a 12,000 mile round trip to Brazil, with the international playing the full 90 minutes on Wednesday night.

But there is also work to be done. The player’s over-eagerness to be involved in all aspects of play has waned a little, with a greater focus on movement in and around the last third playing to Hernández’ genuine strengths. Yet, the 23-year-old remains a poacher above all, offering movement, pace, and outstanding finishing but requiring support. After all, the Mexican is hardly likely to work the channels, hold up the ball or lead the line alone. None of which Ferguson’s scouts recommended the player for, of course.

Moreover, Hernández now faces a genuine battle with Danny Welbeck for a place in Ferguson’s team. Certainly for the weekend fixture with Liverpool the Mexican’s jet lag may well count against a starting berth. Then there is Welbeck’s progression in a year at Sunderland, which has brought five goals in as many games. The Longsight-born youngster has also forced his way into the England reckoning, coming on as a substitute against Montenegro for England last week.

Neither Hernández’ new deal, nor Welbeck’s progression, is good news for Dimitar Berbatov of course, with the 30-year-old Bulgarian starting just two of United’s nine matches in all competitions this season. Berbatov remains the only senior United player to not hold a long-term contract, with the player’s dealing running out in June 2012. Although the club holds an option to extend the striker’s contract beyond next summer it must be taken up, according to reports, before January when the Bulgarian becomes free to negotiate with interested parties.

Should Welbeck continue his upwardly mobile performances, Hernández’ hit the ground running after the international break and Rooney keep his powder dry, Berbatov’s chances of making Ferguson’s first team will diminish further. It may precipitate a sad end to one striker’s United career, while another’s is just beginning to ignite.

Twice embarrassed, Cole turns to the dark side

Ed September 19, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 37 comments

It is reliably said that off the field Chelsea defender Ashley Cole is mild mannered and pleasant company. Engaging even. His on-off-on again wife may not always agree with the 30-year-old’s sexual proclivities but that, of course, is an aside. On the field the left-back’s rapidly waning ability has now twice been exposed in successive outings against Manchester United. The player’s reaction: violence of the crudest kind.

First, Antonio Valencia so humiliated Cole during United’s victory over the Londoners at Old Trafford last April that the former Arsenal player must have been relieved the Reds winger did not start Sunday’s Premier League game. Cole’s moment of deliverance was short-lived though, with Nani again showing the progress the Portuguese has made over the past 18 months with a man-of-the-match performance on Sunday.

By the end of the fixture, so frustrated was Cole with Nani’s mesmerising skills that the former Arsenal left-back lunged, two-footed and high, into Javier Hernández’ shins. The sickening replay showed the Mexican striker’s leg buckle, with a break only a miracle and industrial-strength shin pads away.

Cole’s tackle was crude, aggressive, deliberate and all the more sickening for the arrogant and dismissive reaction delivered by both the defender and his captain John Terry. The pair surround referee Phil Down, arguing fiercely that no foul had been committed. Cole’s attitude was no fake, of course. The player genuinely believes that he did no wrong, despite the studs-up challenge that will leave Hernández out of action for weeks. Plus ça change from Chelsea’s clique of big egos, as Roy Keane call them this week, whomever the manager of the moment.

Understandably, Sir Alex Ferguson was furious,both with the lack of penalty awarded. Technically the ball was about a yard out of play, with Hernandez’ lashing the shot into the side netting but the yellow card issued to Cole is indefensible. Adding insult to the Mexican’s injury, Cole will face no further sanction after referee Dowd refused to dismiss the former Arsenal player.

“It was a shocking challenge,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

“The referee has booked him for it so I don’t know why it wasn’t a penalty. I must ask him. He is very reckless at times, Ashley Cole. He is committed, of course, but being committed you can sometimes go over the edge a bit. That was an example of that. It was a shocking tackle, an absolutely shocking tackle.

“We don’t know what Chicharito has done. We will have to wait. At the moment his leg is very numb. He doesn’t have any feeling in it. He could be out for a couple of week’s maybe.”

The Football Association confirmed, Monday, that Cole will face no further action. FA rules, for the little that they are worth, do not allow for a yellow card to be upgraded retrospectively. Had Dowd taken no action in an incident he clearly did not see then the FA would have been able to charge Cole with violent conduct, resulting in a well deserved three-match ban.

Yet, more embarrassing than Coles’s reaction or the FA’s inadequacy is the excuse made by 33-year-old Chelsea manager André Villas-Boas. Quite unbelievably, José Mourinho’s protegé blamed the incident on the officials for ruling United’s way on two highly marginal offside decisions. The emotion of going behind, claimed Villas-Boas, was too much for Cole to handle; lashing out was all that could be expected of the defender.

“Maybe he wouldn’t get sent off if the linesman does his work,” Villas-Boas told the Telegraph.

“He would have been less emotionally drained. I work the other way round. You are trying to say the referee did something wrong. I cannot forget the previous two. If it was 0-0 maybe Ashley is a little bit more mentally in control of the situation and doesn’t do the red card foul that you mention.”

It is, of course, a feeble excuse made all the worst by Cole’s decade-long history of two-footed lunges and aggressive claims of innocence. Cole is a man whose level of entitlement has always been far off the scale, even for a pampered footballer. It’s not even the first time the defender has gotten away with a similar tackle against United.

The FA for its part is happy to hide behind the organisation’s self-imposed rules, designed to protect referees, but in fact achieving the exact opposite. There is little doubt that had Dowd or his Assistant seen the incident more clearly then Cole wold have seen red. The FA could correct the human error and right an injustice.

Yet the organisation was desperate to jump on the media bandwagon after Wayne Rooney’s ‘sweargate’ at Upton Park last season. It all goes to show, to paraphrase a popular cartoon, that horrific deplorable violence is OK, as long as no one says any naughty words!

Pressure now on Hernández to deliver

Dan Bowman July 13, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 3 comments

While the focus of Manchester United’s summer for many supporters has been the search for the ‘new’ Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney’s hairline or even how to pronounce David de Gea, for Javier Hernández it may well be how to match or improve on a fantastic début season at Old Trafford.

The Mexican, who scored 20 goals in 45 games last season, arrived with little expectation but announced himself on the biggest stage with a fortuitous goal against Chelsea in the Community Shield. The goal proved a sign of a season to come.

Yet, after the bright start Hernández – Chicharito – struggles with the Premier League’s physicality, especially in United’s disappointing 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage. It said much for the player’s quality and determination to improve that Hernández reassured Ferguson with a magnificent finish away from home against Valencia to seal an unconvincing win in September.

Arguably, however, the real turning point in Hernández’ season was the fantastic double against Stoke City at the Britannia in October.

“There was a game that really made me realise that I could have an interesting season. It was the match against Stoke City in which I scored twice,” concluded the 22-year old striker in May.

“Throughout the match, I felt perfectly at ease in the game. I felt like I had been playing for Manchester United for 10 years. Thanks to my team-mates, I could express myself freely on the pitch. I think it was the pivotal game in my season. I will remember it all my life.”

From a position of strength the Mexican dislodged top scorer Dimitar Berbatov in Sir Alex Ferguson’s starting eleven and scored vital goals in both league and cup competitions. In total the 20 goals allowed Hernández to  join the great Ruud van Nistlerooy in reaching the landmark in his first season at Old Trafford. van Nistelrooy went on to score 150 goals in 200 starts for United.

The immediate challenge for Hernández is to overcome the real risk of burnout so early in his career. Chicharito has been subjected to a grueling summer after a first physical season in England. First the late finish to the campaign against Barcelona at Wembley and then a highly successful Gold Cup campaign with Mexico, in which Hernández netted seven times in six games.

The striker stood out throughout the competition, despite the arguably poor quality of opposition. In the process Hernández won player of the tournament; an outstanding accolade regardless of the competition.

Ferguson will be thankful that Chicharito was left out of Mexico’s calamitous Copa America for a fear of burnout. The Mexican football association is equally protective of its star asset. The extended break afforded to the player before he joins his club compatriots in the USA for their summer is also welcome. Ferguson is no doubt extremely hesitant to overuse the nimble Mexican on this media exercise.

The scene is set for Hernández to carry his impressive summer form into the new season, although Ferguson has a plethora of options available to allow the Mexican ample time recover full fitness.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for Chicharito to now overcome is the clichéd ‘second season syndrome’ – other players have broken in to United’s first team only to fade away.

In fact Hernández could find no greater motivation than in the squad itself, with Michael Owen, once the darling of world football, now little more than Old Trafford squad filler aged just 31 Old Trafford. Hernández has a similar playing style to a young Owen – a game built on playing off the last shoulder of the last defender, matched with deadly pace. Perhaps Ferguson’s real love for Owen is to school Hernández in the fine art of finishing.

Regardless of that particular theory, the coming season remains the biggest test of Hernández’ resolve to date. Teams across the continent will have improved their understanding of United’s potent striker.

“I do not rest on my laurels. I want to do even better next season. I want to help this club to make history,” added Hernández after collecting the Supporters’ Player of the Season award in May.

Ferguson and the supporters can only hope his game has improved too.

Hernández earns rest after Gold Cup glory

Ed June 26, 2011 Tags: , , International, Opinion 3 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will surely greet Javier Hernández’ Gold Cup win with mixed feelings. Delight for a player who has burst onto the international scene as a genuine star; concern that the 22-year-old striker faces burn out after seven summer matches that crisscrossed North America and racked up more than 8,000 miles on the continent alone.

There will be relief then that Chicharito is set to miss Mexico’s invitational appearance at this summer’s Copa America, with El Tricolor set to field an experimental squad in Argentina. While Mexico’s status as an invited participant means head coach José Manuel de la Torre has no right under FIFA statutes to call up players not released by their clubs, Ferguson would hardly relish creating friction at this stage of Hernández’ Manchester United career.

On a personal level the summer could hardly have gone better for the United striker, who scored seven goals in as many games to fire Mexico to the gold medal. Hernández may not have scored in the final – a 4-2 win over the ‘home’ side USA in Pasadena on Saturday night – but the striker picked up the tournament’s Golden Boot award and its “Most Valuable Player” gong in any case.

Hernández’ summer feat takes his international total to 21 goals in 29 appearances, adding to the 20 goals the 22-year-old scored in all competitions last season. Far cry from thoughts of quitting the game as the Little Pea struggled to make the break through at Chivas Guadalajara two years ago. Such is the player’s rise to fame in the past year that Hernández could make almost any team in the world.

“I wasn’t playing the minutes that I wanted to at the time and the coach wasn’t playing me. I don’t know why that was, but I was frustrated,” Hernández said after joining United in April 2010.

“My confidence started to go down and I asked my father and my family whether I was still right to play football. The past is the past. I had a very different mind then.”

Confidence now flows through a player who has become Ferguson’s first choice striker at Old Trafford, displacing Premier League top goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov in the Scot’s side during the business-end of last season.

Yet, truth be told, the 22-year-old didn’t have the finest of games on Saturday night, suffering from an unusual profligacy in front of goal as Mexico came back from 2-0 down inside half an hour to defeat their hosts 4-2 in normal time. Perhaps the pressure finally told. Played in Southern California the match was a home fixture in name alone with the majority of a partizan 94,000 crowd cheering for the men in green.

But Hernandez’ two assists in the final add to the feast of goals during the tournament, scored in a delightfully diverse fashion. The striker scored a hat-trick in Mexico’s 5–0 win against El Salvador – header, right-foot, cheeky penalty – a brace against Cuba and then the winner in a 2–1 win over Guatemala; a stunning back-heel at the near post. Showcasing’s the striker’s ability to score by whatever means, Hernández scored Mexico’s winning goal in the 99th minute – with his crotch – to beat Honduras 2-1 after extra time in the semi-final.

Hernández will now be given an extended summer break by Ferguson, with the striker unlikely to feature heavily, if at all, in United’s summer tour to the United States. Fear of burn out is real, despite the limited schedule faced at United last season. In truth Hernández is likely to play more than 40 times for the Reds in the coming season, with Berbatov relegated to third choice if the 30-year-old Bulgarian remains at the club beyond the transfer window.

The rest may mean disappointment for the growing army of United supporters in the states, where Ferguson’s side visits Boston, Seattle, Chicago, New York and then Washington during a two-week tour from 13 July. After all, pre-season training begins in just over a fortnight.

Yet, typical of the man, Hernández is focussed on banishing any thoughts of ‘second season syndrome’ rather than soaking up his new-found global fame.

“Success is written into the DNA of this club,” said the 22-year-old last week.

“I’m at the best club in the world. Everything is done to succeed and win titles. There is only the Champions League defeat that sticks in the throat. I am extremely happy with my season, but I do not rest on my laurels. I want to do even better next season. I want to help this club make history.”

United fans will sleep easy on that thought. Ferguson, meanwhile, has a delicate decision to make on Hernández’ eventual return to the United fold.

Javier Hernandez

Four games, seven points, one title

Ed April 24, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 70 comments

‘The title is ours’, not exactly Sir Alex Ferguson’s words after Manchester United beat Everton 1-0 on Saturday at Old Trafford but they could well have been. United’s late late victory, not for the first time in a season that has rarely sparkled yet promises to bring more silverware, brings the Reds to within just seven points of claiming the Premier League. Or in other words, with games against relegation threatened Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool to come, United can probably win one and lose one of upcoming fixtures with title-rivals Arsenal and Chelsea in the next fortnight.

Ferguson’s position is understandably bullish after Javier Hernández 81st minute strike on Saturday. It was the Mexican’s 19th goal of a campaign that is increasingly defined by the 22-year-old’s performances.

“Games are running out for our rivals and we’re up for it,” said Ferguson after Saturday’s victory over Everton.

“I enjoy this critical stage of a season when we are involved in big games that come thick and fast and I think we will be OK. The thing that puzzles me is they [the media] keep saying Arsenal and Chelsea have got to play us still, like we’re going to lose to them but why shouldn’t we win those games? Why can’t we go to the Emirates Stadium and win, as we have done previously?

“As I said to the players, forget all that nonsense. Just try to win your games and you’ll be all right, keep your heads and don’t get carried away.”

Indeed, yesterday’s laboured win over in-form Everton should remind Ferguson’s players – as if any prompting is really needed – that points and not performances is what counts come April and May. It is a lesson so rarely learned at the Emirates. After all, despite United’s dominance against Everton there would be no Arsenal-style sympathy had United thrown away the points.

Not so against David Moyes’ spirited outfit. Much as is United’s type this season, the Reds continued to probe for openings, patient in the knowledge that chances would eventually come. More than 60 per cent possession and 16 chances created against Everton, who had not lost in seven matches, attest to that. Other United sides have demonstrated more talent; few have shown more character. It is a trait for which Ferguson can taken much praise.

“There is that winning attitude about them,” added the 69-year-old Scot.

“We will keep our heads down and not get carried away. There are only four games left and the way they are going about their business and the effort they have shown, it gives them an outstanding chance of being champions. You can test people’s character but they keep coming through.

“We had some great openings and could have had this match finished by half-time but it is in the traditions of Manchester United that we don’t do that. We always wait until the very end and keep everyone high on the edge of their seats but we get there.”

On Hernández Ferguson rightly praised the role the sprightly Mexican has played this season. Buy of the summer? Buy of the decade more like. For all the Scot’s disingenuous talk of the transfer market’s lack of value, deliberately hiding as it does the Glazer family’s financial agenda, Hernández has proven a genuine bargain.

“Javier has done better than everyone expected,” added Ferguson.

“We thought that because it was his first year, he would just get used to the English game and get strengthened up. He has passed all those tests. He is first in at nine o’clock every morning and he is the last to leave. He is a truly dedicated boy.”

After all, Hernández has not only scored late goals for United but winning goals. This is no kid, brought on with 10 to play in a dead rubber, that is helping himself to easy pickings. In his first campaign with the club, United would not be in position to win the title without Hernández.

Meanwhile, Hernández is genuinely humble in his achievements, preferring to enthuse the team ethic and not his own contribution that should have brought a PFA Young Player of the Year Award.

“Of course it’s a dream come true, this season,” said the former Chivas striker.

“If we win the Premier League, that’s an unbelievable thing. If I could swap all the goals for us to win the league then I would do it. We know we are almost there, but we can’t afford to think like we’ve already won it. We go day by day, week by week.

“I’m very happy, but I’m happier because we got the three points. Here at Manchester United we need to win every game and it doesn’t matter who scores.”

In that there is a false modesty of course. Hernández’ goals have taken United to within a whisker of glory. Grab more than a point over the next two matches and United supporters worldwide can start to celebrate.

Hernández – a defensive forward

Jay Shon April 3, 2011 Tags: Opinion 53 comments

Surely Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández, who has scored 17 goals in all competitions in his début Manchester United season, is not the Ji- Sung Park of strikers? After all, notwithstanding the Mexican’s above average workrate, he doesn’t ‘put himself about’ as much. One doesn’t often see Javier Hernández popping up at the back, for example. In fact, the 22-year-old striker is consistently glued to the shoulder of last defender.

Indeed, the Mexican’s attack-mindedness is what makes the youngster an excellent contributor to United’s defence. Hernández is extremely quick off the mark and by having such a pacey player staying up field, the opposition cannot drive the defensive line forward, lest a quick ball over the top catch the defence off guard. With the defence sapped, the opposition faces two undesirable options: first, commit only midfielders and forwards to the attack and have the team disjointed; or drop the team back a little to remain in contact with the defence. This, of course, relieves pressure on United.

Perhaps, this is why Hernández has been preferred to Dimitar Berbatov in recent games. Despite his languid style, Berbatov is not slow but the Bulgarian does like to drop deep and pick up the ball before launching into attack. Naturally, the opposition defence can safely form a high line. Sir Alex Ferguson tried to combat the problem by deploying Wayne Rooney, who is generally a more direct player than Berbatov, further up field than the thirty-year-old Bulgarian.

The solution didn’t quite work out for it put Berbatov in a completely unnatural position. In addition, Rooney is also a player who likes to drop deep and often United had two forwards in deep positions directly facing a line of defenders. Wingers could theoretically provide the thrust to drive back the opposition but defenders are much less wary of wingers for they are further away from goal than strikers. Also, to engage wingers, players of Paul Scholes’ calibre are need – the task requires accurate passing over long distance.

Not only does Hernández’ obsession with the offside trap help out defensively, but also it assists Rooney United’s midfielders. With Hernández stretching the play, Rooney has a nice pocket of space from which he can influence the play. Even in a nominal 4-4-2, Rooney plays deeper than a typical striker when partnering the Mexican, which results in a more 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 shape. The midfield becomes staggered and such shape is much easier to maintain possession – a triangle of players can always pass around a line of players.

This column has previously written on Park and argued that deploying a defensive winger necessitates a high line and high tempo game – something that perhaps is undesirable when one is actually trying to set up a defensive game. Hernández is a very good example of an attacking player who can be defensive just by the virtue of being attacking. Cristiano Ronaldo is another good example – it takes a gutsy fullback to bomb forward with Ronaldo lurking.

Pundits and fans alike often argue that Park and players of his ilk, such as Dirk Kuyt, ‘take one for the team’ and that they shouldn’t be criticised for their relative lack of attacking contribution. These pundits have a point but they are also missing the fact that attack often is the best form of defence.

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