Tag Javier Hernández

Tag Javier Hernández

Hernández wins plaudits and trust

March 16, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 52 comments

Javier Hernández’ emergence from unknown, to Sir Alex Ferguson’s leading striker could take a limited Manchester United side to ever great heights and – perhaps crucially – bring out the best in Wayne Rooney too. The Mexican’s transformation from impact substitute to first choice in recent games says much for the 22-year-old’s rapid development. It’s progress that could win United the Premier League title and take the Reds to the Champions League latter stages.

Hernández’ brace against Marseille on Tuesday night won United a game that could easily have slipped away. Indeed, had the former Chivas striker been on the French side’s books, the Reds could well now be out of the Champions League. Crucial misses from André-Pierre Gignac and Loïc Rémy spared Ferguson’s blushes on a night when injuries and inconsistency almost proved calamitous.

Hernández’ well taken double proved the difference though. The Mexican’s first after five minutes calmed United’s nerves; the second with a quarter-hour remaining effectively won Ferguson’s side a match in which the hosts were never in complete control. Neither goals taxed the forward’s skill-set perhaps – both close-range strikes – but Hernández’ movement proved crucial, offering a static United midfield consistent options.

The performance drew praise from Ferguson, who resisted the temptation to recall this season’s top-scorer Dimitar Berabtov. Indeed, the Scot expressed delight at the Mexican’s rapid development in the nine months since his arrival in England, and confidence in the growing partnership with Rooney.

“We are surprised,” said Ferguson.

“When we bought him we thought it’d take him time to adjust. He has adjusted to the physical part very well and is lasting 90 minutes.”

“It [partnership with Rooney] has been developing well. Where Wayne has been playing in the past couple of games he is a real threat. He has such power and speed and Hernández is unbelievable with his movement. The boy has goals in him.”

The Mexican’s goals – 15 in all competition, to Berbatov’s 20 – have also relieved the burden on Rooney. If United relied too heavily on the Scouser last season, then the former Evertonian’s troubles in recent months have also demonstrated the wealth of Ferguson’s options in attack. Hernández has taken his chance in spectacular style.

Moreover, the Mexican’s emergence has freed Rooney to take up a deeper position in which the 25-year-old can affect the game in a more creative way. After all, with Paul Scholes’ ageing legs no longer able to carry the 36-year-old through games, United has lacked a certain ‘stardust’ in midfield, to paraphrase beaten coach Didier Deschamps.

While 34 goals in all competitions last season was an immense return for United’s £27 million striker, the change in position arguable hamstrung Rooney’s creative side. No longer so, with Rooney dropping deep and Hernández providing the focul point to United’s attack Ferguson can play a traditional 4-4-2, knowing the Scouser can drop into midfield when required. The change also enables United to take advantage of the Mexican’s blistering pace.

Rooney can also see the benefits of the growing partnership, which has helped United’s star player return to some semblance of form in recent weeks.

“He’s a fantastic player,” Rooney told BBC Radio 5 live after Tuesday’s victory.

“He’s in good form, it’s nice to see him scoring and nice to play with him. He always tries to stay on the shoulder, looks in behind and he’s a quick player. By making those runs in behind defenders it creates a bit more space for you in front of them.

“So it’s working well at the minute. He’s been fantastic and works so hard as well. He wants to improve and it’s good to see.”

Hernández’ gain is Berbatov’s loss of course. The Bulgarian’s patchy form – streaks of goalscoring, followed by long barren periods – has hardly helped the former Tottenham Hotspur striker. Neither has Ferguson’s consistent tinkering with his role though. Now 30, Berbatov joined United having lead the line at each of his former clubs only to be deployed in a deeper role at Old Trafford. Then, finally consistently chosen as a ‘number nine’ this season, the Bulgarian has struggled to maintain a regular place in United’s side.

It places the Bulgarian in an interesting position, with his four-year contract due to run out in June 2012. Other United players in a similar position – Patrice Evra, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Nemanja Vidic – have each signed new deals with the club. While speculation was widespread in February that an announcement could be imminent, there is no ink on a new deal.

That is no concern to Hernández of course, for whom United paid just £8 million up front with staggered performance payments to come. Whatever the final total, Hernández has proven a bargain and is likely to be rewarded with a bumper new contract well ahead of schedule. Few could deny the Mexican the reward for his significant impact at United.

In the meantime Hernández’ goals, if they continue to flow, could take a less-than-stellar United side to both the Premier League title and further in Europe than some predicted.

Reds unveil kids, lose sight of value

August 17, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 131 comments

Manchester United officially unveiled summer signings Javier Hernández, Bébé and Chris Smalling at an Old Trafford press conference today, with manager Sir Alex Ferguson claiming that nobody in the market is better than now available in his squad. The trio, signed for around £25 million atage 20-22, represent the club’s future said Ferguson.

Ferguson, who is effectively under orders from senior management to invest in youth and not established players who have no resale value, said that bringing players to the club from a young age creates loyalty.

“We’ve seen with Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, and later O’Shea, Fletcher and Wes Brown that young players develop and have a good loyalty towards you, they appreciate the education you give them as coaches,” argues Ferguson.

Those of a more cynical nature might argue that Cristiano Ronaldo’s £80 million transfer to Real Madrid provides the true template for United’s current transfer policy.

Perhaps more controversially Ferguson, who has repeatedly declared that there is no value in the transfer market on the day German midfielder Mesut Özil signed for Real Madrid in a £12.4 million deal, said that nobody that he had seen could offer a “quantum leap” improvement in United’s side this season.

Javier “Chicharito” Hernández

Of those players already brought to the club, 22-year-old Chicharito has already become a fans’ favourite after bright performances in pre-season games against an MLS All Star XI, former club Chivas Guadalajara, the Airtricity League XI and Chelsea in the Community Shield. The striker signed for around £7 million, which United announced in April. He has scored 10 goals in 17 internationals for Mexico.

“It’s like a dream. I am living the dream that I’ve had since I was 10 years old,” said Chicharito, who said his home début for the club was wonderful.

“I’ve always seen these players like Scholes and I want to be like them. I want to grow as a human and a player and the most important thing is I want to win championships.”

Tiago Manuel “Bébé” Dias Correi

Meanwhile, surprise signing Bébé, aged 20, joins from Vitória de for €9 million – £7.4 million – after United’s former assistant manager Carlos Quieroz recommended the winger-cum-forward. The player is yet to play at any level above the Portuguese third division, although Guimarães claims that Real Madrid was also among four clubs bidding for the winger who was available on a free transfer less than two months ago.

Indeed, Ferguson admitted that he is yet to see anything of Bébé, having signed a player before watching him play, even on video, for the first time in 24 years as United’s manager. “Sometimes you have to go on instinct,” and the judgement of United’s scouting department, Ferguson said.

Bébé’s rise to the top of world football took the football world by surprise in the past week but it’s an opportunity that the player intends to capitalise on.

“I feel very good. It’s an opportunity that has been given to me and I must grab it,” said the winger, now sporting short hair after Ferguson apparently ordered the player to remove the locks he wore just last week.

“The strong Portuguese links here were a big thing for me. Ronaldo played here and he became a great player. Also, Nani and Anderson are here and I want to be like them and work hard to become a good player.”

Chris “Appalling” Smalling

United announced a £10 million deal, rising to £12 million, for former-Fulham central defender Smalling, 20, in January. The 6’5″ defender has the raw talent, with pre-season games demonstrating his pace, passing ability and physique. However, the inexperienced defender’s form has dipped markedly since United announced the move last winter, although England Under-21s selected the player last week.

“They gave me my chance and a lot of support,” said Smalling of his time at Fulham who discovered the giant defender playing non-league football less than three years ago.

The relative value of each signing is, of course, dependant on their success or failure at the club but there are no guarantees. After all, younger players such as Giuseppe Rossi, Gerrard Piqué and Diego Forlan failed to make the grade at United before establishing themselves elsewhere.

Indeed, it is tempting to ponder exactly what value Ferguson is really looking for?

Özil, his compatriot Sami Khedira and the brilliant Dutchman Wes Sneijder each cost their clubs about the same fee as Smalling will eventually draw from United’s coffers. UEFA Club Player of the Year shortlisted Diego Milito was available on a free transfer last summer.

Value indeed.

Finally, a plan B

August 10, 2010 Tags: Opinion 53 comments

Wayne Rooney’s injury at the tail end of last season rendered Manchester United’s attack became predictable, slow and lethargic. Sir Alex Ferguson first tried playing Dimitar Berbatov up front by himself – a strategy that failed miserably against Chelsea – and then partnered Federico Macheda with the Bulgarian only to discover the pair worked even less.

As United limped over the finish line with defeat to Chelsea and a draw against Blackburn, Ferguson’s side surrendered the title because the team possessed no plan B in attack. That might just be changing…

In Sunday’s Community Shield at Wembley Ferguson picked Rooney alongside Michael Owen in a traditional 4-4-2 formation, intending to attack Chelsea from the start. Although Rooney was better than throughout the World Cup in South Africa, the Scouser is clearly not yet 100 per cent match fit. Meanwhile, Owen looked out of position playing deeper than his striker partner.

In the second period Fergie opted to test out a new strike partnership in Berbatov and the Mexican revelation Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández, as he had done in Ireland last week. Immediately there seemed an understanding between the pair.

Berbatov’s deft flicks and touches were laid off right into the path of Chicharito, whose movement was excellent. Rooney asked John Terry some searching questions in the first half but that was nothing compared to the fits Chicharito had the Chelsea back line in. The Mexican timed his runs to perfection, got into good goal scoring positions and most impressively, he connected with United misfit Berbatov.

Playing alongside the youngster, Berbatov had at last a smile on his face, clearly enjoyed the football and looked more confident than he has in a long time. With Chicharito making runs beyond Berbatov and picking up the ball from the Bulgarian in advanced positions, the Mexican forced the Chelsea defenders deeper, leaving a hole in front of the back four in which the Bulgarian striker could operate.

More than once Berbatov found himself with the space required to work his magic, orchestrating United’s attacks and popping up with a very well taken goal in injury time.

The combination also helped create the space in the middle of the park United so often lacked last season. But this potentially dangerous partnership of Berbatov and Chicharito also brings back the perennial tactical question: 4-4-2 or 4-5-1?

Clearly, Rooney will start for United when fit and the former Evertonian was most effective last season playing the lone striker. So much so that it is doubtful whether Ferguson will make any significant switch away from this formation in the most important matches, especially away from home.

However the blossoming Berbatov – Chicharito combination gives Sir Alex a second potent attacking threat. Significantly, it means Fergie may not have to run Rooney into the ground as the Scot did last season, resulting in the injury at Bayern Munich and the far too rapid return to action.

In reality Ferguson will almost certainly switch between formations depending on United’s opponents as he did for much of last season. The difference is that United now offers more variation going forward.

Finally, United has the plan B that was clearly missing coming down the stretch last season.

Hernández impact spells end for Owen

August 1, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 18 comments

Michael Owen will see out the final year of his contract with Manchester United during the coming season but injury and the immediate impact of new Mexican striker Javier Hernández is likely to reduce the former Liverpool forward’s role in the team. Owen, 30, appeared in 31 games for United last season, scoring nine goals.

Owen’s arrival on a free transfer last summer followed a disastrous injury-plagued four year spell at relegated Newcastle United. Indeed, the animosity the former England striker created among the Gallowgate faithful is a direct result of the player’s heavy wages, huge transfer fee and lack of serious impact.

Widely regarded as a surprise signing by Sir Alex Ferguson, the picture of Owen’s time at Newcastle hardly altered in his single season at Old Trafford. Injury, quite predictably, ended a campaign in which the 30-year-old rarely started. There was perhaps little surprise in that though. After all, expectations at Old Trafford were hardly high to start with.

Now though the 89 cap international faces a challenge making the United squad, let alone the first team with seven strikers now on the club’s books. It is possible that Owen, still a few weeks short of full fitness, will have slipped to fifth in the pecking order by the time the striker returns to fitness, behind Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Hernández and even Federico Macheda.

The greatest challenge to Owen’s role in the team undoubtedly comes from new boy Chicharito, who on first appearances is a fitter, younger, faster and more flexible forward. Hernández, 21, scored for United against the MLS All Stars and then against his own team for CD Chivas Guadalajara on Friday night.

Although supporters’ expectations of the Mexican should be kept in check – the player is moving team, country and continent to an alien style of football – Hernández’ offers everything that Owen brings to the club, save for experience.

It’s a quality Owen spoke about this week, with the former Real Madrid player entering the final year of his contract with the club, although each party has an option for a third year at Old Trafford.

“I’d love this to be my last club,” said Owen, who is unlikely to return until September.

“You look at Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville and you like to think you have five more years in the game. I’m 30, and I don’t want to wish my career away. In an ideal world I’d like to play out my years here.

“I had great moments last season – a hat-trick in the Champions League and a goal in the Carling Cup Final, but the derby goal was fantastic. It was one of the biggest, most pure adrenaline rushes of my career. It’s alongside that Germany hat-trick, scoring twice in the FA Cup Final, and that goal in St Etienne.”

Owen needs to get fit and stay fit to challenge for a place in the United side of course. After all the player started only 10 games last season, and the Champions League hat-trick aside the player hit the net on just six other occasions.

The issue of fitness is perennially a source of frustration for the player, who appears in total denial about the problems that have dogged a career.

“I was fit for 43 games,” claimed the forward, who appeared in just 71 Premier League games over four years on Tyneside.

“The pity is I missed the ones at the end when we were playing for things. The amount of injuries I have had is exaggerated. It can be annoying, but you learn to live with it.”

In the meantime Hernández may well become another annoyance by supplanting Owen in the United squad.


July 30, 2010 Tags: Opinion 18 comments

Could Manchester United’s acquisition of Mexican striker Javier Hernandez provide a financial boost to the debt-ridden club, with million’s of Hispanics turning away from Barcelona and Real Madrid to proffer their football love (and money) on Sir Alex Ferguson’s team? Perhaps, although probably not in the way it is often reported.

It has long-been the critical refrain of United’s detractors – both internal and external – that the club has sought a marketing benefit from player purchases as much, if not more, than performances on the pitch.

After all, the law of received wisdom tells us that Chinese player Dong Fangzou was bought not for his ability – it turns out he had little – but for the potential to tap into the spending power of one billion Chinese.

Similar arguments are made about United’s far less hapless but no less loved South Korean midfielder Park Ji-Sung, for whom a legion of millions stay up way beyond bedtime to catch the occasional glimpse of the 28-year-old in action on Korean TV each weekend.

Repeat law for US, Irish, Argentinean, Italian, African and perhaps, although unlikely, Scouse players it is said. The globalisation of football, this received knowledge says, is a gold mine to the club, with new found friends happily parting with Won, Dollar, Kroner, Rupee and Groat to wear the club colours, buy United Callypso on polyphonic ringtone and download a wallpaper.

The effect of Hernandez’ financial magic dust will surely be felt in Mexico and the wider Latin world too?

Indeed, the excitement generated among Mexican supporters – perhaps even more so second generation fans – by Chicharito’s appearance in a United shirt is palpable. The striker’s debut against an MLS All Star Xi in Houston on Wednesday night was met with fervor not experienced on any leg of United’s North American tour to that point.

The baying hordes so associated with the club’s tours of Asia had largely stayed away from United’s trips to Toronto, Philadelphia and Kansas City, via a charity diversion in New York. Not so Houston, with the new striker’s 30 minute cameo and well-taken goal met with a frenzied response in the packed 70,000 capacity Reliant Stadium.

The challenge for United’s management, however, stems from the apparent separation between fandom and revenue generation in overseas markets. It is one the club is slowing beginning to address.

The passion with which United is held in Asia is undoubtedly a boon to the club, although until recently largely unmonetisable. After all, much against common wisdom but a reality nonetheless, there are very few ways in which football clubs – even those as famous as United – can generate cash from its supporters, especially away from the club’s core domestic market.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, clubs generate cash from ticket sales. About a third of United’s £279 million revenue in 2009 came from ticket sales. It’s a cash cow the Glazer regime has milked of course, with aggregate ticket prices rising by 48 per cent during the family’s five year tenure at Old Trafford.

Then there are broadcast rights, which United sells collectively to both domestic and overseas markets with the other 19 Premier League clubs. As a successful team, finishing each Premier League season within the top three to date, United garners a larger share of the pot from appearance and success fees than most other teams. It’s a reward for both success on the field and popularity off it, although the disparity between top and bottom earners in England is far less than say in Spain where Barcelona and Real Madrid account for 90 per cent of all broadcast income.

Thirdly, the club makes around another 30 per cent of its annual income from commercial enterprises, including sponsorship and merchandise sales. Within this block Aon, the US-based risk-management firm who paid the club a reported £80 million over four years for shirt sponsorship, and Nike whose £315 million shirt production deal runs to 2015, are the principal partners.

While millions of supporters garnered from overseas markets is a headline-grabber, the percentage contribution to the club’s bottom line is in fact minimal. After all broadcast rights are sold collectively, fans in many markets – more than 90 per cent according to the best guestimates – buy only counterfeit goods if any at all, and the much lauded digital content markets offer almost no incremental revenue streams yet.

In fact the real boon to United’s commercial activity is not from individual fans’ spending per se but the brand association commercial partners garner from the country-specific exclusive partnerships the club has struck over the past 18 months. Ed Woodward’s London-based commercial team has inked a claimed £200 million worth of such deals in the past year – albeit with the benefits spread over many seasons – including sponsorship arrangements with Turkish Airlines, Singha Beer, and Collo y Toro wines.

Hernandez’ acquisition is unlikely to create any significant direct revenue streams though. Shirt sales may well increase in Latin markets, but it’s doubtful that it’ll be at a rate that will herald any relevant increase in turnover. More Mexican supporters may tune into Premier League games, but with broadcast rights fixed for the next three years and sold collectively the other 19 Premier League clubs will benefit just as much as Ferguson’s outfit. United may even benefit from the occasion day-tripping Mexican tourist, although it is unlikely to fill the empty spaces at Old Trafford.

Where the Little Pea’s impact is more likely to be felt by the Old Trafford bean counters – aside from his inevitable sale to Real Madrid cynics might add – is in a new addressable Latin American market for the aforementioned commercial partnerships.

Expect to see Chicharito’s baby-face adorning giant billboards in Mexico City some time soon.

It’s a market unsurprisingly cornered by Real Madrid and Barcelona to date but with the poster boy of Mexican football now firmly on the club’s roster, both Ferguson and the Glazers may have equal reason to hope he hits the ground running come August.

* with sincere apologies to Levitt and Dubner

Chicharito keeps feet grounded as United début beckons

July 28, 2010 Tags: , Matches 10 comments

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.

Chicharito joins amid higher expectations

July 2, 2010 Tags: Opinion 2 comments

Javier Hernández formally became a Manchester United player yesterday following a successful World Cup with Mexico in South Africa. Although dumped out of the competition by Argentina last week, Hernández’ side conformed to expectations while the striker hit the headlines with two well-taken goals against France and Diego Maradona’s side.

Hernández,  also known as Chicharito – the ‘Little Pea’ – now joins United amid much higher expectations than just a few short weeks ago, with the 21-year-old’s relative obscurity evaporating by the game following nine goals in his first 17 international games.

Indeed, while the Mexican’s £7 million acquisition was generally viewed as ‘one for the future’, with a first season sacrificed to bedding in, the striker’s growing maturity may proffer an immediate first team opportunity.

It’s exactly this scenario that accelerated the United’s move for the player in April, with the club concerned that an excellent World Cup performance would impact the striker’s eventual price. Driven by the new economics at the club perhaps but a smart move if the player’s undoubted potential is fulfilled.

Hernández’ immediate opportunities will depend on how quickly he adapts both to life in England and the pace of the Premier League. Fleeting glimpses in South Africa confirmed the striker’s excellent first touch, lightening quick pace over the first 10 yards and, surprisingly since the Mexican stands at just 5’7”, a Tim Cahil-esque.

Good form in pre-season might yet accelerate the player’s progress yet further. It’s a view held by former United striker Frank Stapleton, who played 288 games for the club following his 1981 £900,000 transfer from Arsenal.

“He has a good opportunity now to hit the ground running in England,” Stapleton told the Manchester Evening News yesterday.

“Time will tell how he handles that. But the good thing for him is that Sir Alex Ferguson knows just how to introduce young players.

“If the player shows up well early on in pre-season then the manager might just says let’s go with him. Players find their level.

“It might start well for Hernandez and then he peaks and there is a reaction. But Fergie will see that and know it is time to give him a breather.

“He might not have considered Javier for an immediate impact.

“But it has happened in the past where players who were looked on as ‘ones for the future’ have made such a good early impression that the United manager has given them a chance.”

Mexico’s second round elimination and the relatively short game-time the pacey striker gained in South Africa – three substitute appearances and one start – means that Chicharito could play some part in United’s summer tour to North America and Mexico.

United’s game against Hernández’ old club Chivas, in Guadalajara on 30 July, may well be the romantics’ choice for the player’s club début, with Ferguson offering each of his World Cup players a full month’s holiday.

Hernández’ United future also significantly depends on Ferguson’s tactical outlook for the new season. With the United manager rarely deploying two strikers and the World Cup confirming 4-4-2 is effectively dead at the highest level, Chicarito’s role may be restricted to that of Wayne Rooney’s back-up.

With Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen, Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck and Mame Biram Diouf already on the books the Mexican will need to hit the ground running if he is to feature next season. Rumours of an impending bid for Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema will hardly help the new import’s cause.

But there is, of course, a precedent for an obscure young acquisition making an immediate impact at Old Trafford – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 14 years ago. The Norwegian scored on his debut against Blackburn Rovers and went on to score 126 goals for the club.

Anywhere near that and Chicharito will prove a major bargain.

World Cup opens with Chicarito, Evra and the vuvuzela

June 11, 2010 Tags: , , , International 1 comment

Forget the crime, travel nightmares and rip-off prices; concentrate on the football. That’s the message as the World Cup opened amid the vuvuzela din in Johannesburg. There’s plenty of it, with 64 matches in total. Manchester United interest came early, with Mexico’s Javier ‘Chicarito’ Hernandéz featuring in a 1-1 draw with South Africa today.

This evening, at the truly magnificent Green Point Stadium in Cape Town, French captain Patrice Evra took to the field against former red Diego Forlan and reported United transfer target Luis Suarez. It’s a cliché of course but 30 days of back-to-back matches is truly a festival of football. Magnificent.

It’s a tournament with a unique character too and not just because of the incessant low rumble of an approaching swarm that is recalled by South Africans’ favourite match-day horns. The sheer local pride in hosting the first tournament on African soil is palpable.

On the pitch the hosts took the lead today with a stunning opening goal in the 94,000 capacity Soccer City Stadium before Hernandez’ Mexico struck a late, fully deserved, equaliser to finally silence the banks of vuvuzela. The striker, who officially becomes a United player during the tournament on 1 July, completely missed a header six yards out only for midfielder Rafael Marquez to shank the ball home.

Hernandéz, perhaps surprisingly, started the match on the bench despite seven goals in 13 internationals to date, with West Ham United reject Guiermo Franco starting up front in a 4-3-3 formation. But with Mexico trailing, the 22-year-old Guadalajara-born forward came on as a second-half substitute.

The 5′ 8 in” forward showed some neat touches and plenty of movement without fashioning a chance in 17 minutes on the pitch but with Franco abjectly poor the new United star could well start against France in six days time.

Meanwhile, French captain Evra vowed to win the World Cup for the motherland ahead of Les Bleus’ opening fixture against Uruguay tonight. With arguments rocking the squad this week – Florent Malouda’s anger at coach Raymond Domenech almost coming to blows yesterday – the left-back will need to demonstrate all his leadership skills to bring unity to the side.

“I am very confident and I have trust in the squad,” said Evra, who was appointed captain to succeed Thierry Henry.

“I think we can go right to the end [of the tournament]. Anything can happen in football but that is what drives us. We are in very good health both on and off the field and that is what we need.”

Evra’s promotion came at the expense of Arsenal’s William Gallas, who is now refusing to speak to the media as a result. It’s a remarkable rise for the captain, who arrived at United via footballing backwaters such as Marsala, Monza and Nice.

“It’s difficult to talk about one’s self but I have put in some hard work to this point,” Evra said yesterday.

“I have not had any gifts but I am determined. My first six months in Manchester were difficult but my psychology has helped me get this far.”

No doubt more hard work lies ahead if France is to match the performance in Germany four years ago when, led by the inspirational Zinidine Zidane, the French made the World Cup final.

Hernandez scores against Dutch and FA

May 27, 2010 Tags: Shorts 5 comments

New Manchester United striker Javier Hernandéz scored against Holland in a pre-World Cup friendly and with the FA for a work permit. A day after the 5′ 7″ striker headed home a consolation goal in Mexico’s 2-1 defeat to the Oranje, United was forced to plead ‘exceptional talent’ in order to secure the required home office documents.

22-year-old forward Hernandéz joins United on 1 July but it was dependent on the FA granting a work permit today. Typically non-EU nationals must have played at least 75 per cent of his country’s internationals over the past two years. It’s a criteria that the nine-cap striker falls well short of, forcing United to ask for special dispensation under the exceptional talent rule.

Strangely United called off the deal for Serbia youngster Adem Ljajić earlier this year, claiming that the FA is now reluctant to use the exceptional talent rule after widespread abuse.

While Untied supporters saw Hernandéz as a brief second-half substitute against England on Monday, the Guadalajara-born player scored his fifth goal in nine internationals against Bert van Marwijk’s Dutch side, with Mexico due to face France, South Africa and Uruguay in the World Cup Group A.

First look at Chicharito

May 24, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 9 comments

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.