Despite a lively start to his Old Trafford career, Javier Hernández has seen his playing time diminish since a young Danny Welbeck made the step up to first team and Sir Alex hit the transfer lottery with Robin van Persie. Now, with Wayne Rooney staying put at Old Trafford and Shinji Kagawa close to the first XI when fit, the competition for places is very high up front.
Whether it’s a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-2-3-1, Shinji and Rooney have all but booked the spot behind the striker for themselves. Higher up, Robin van Persie rules his piece of land with characteristic ease and even though Welbeck isn’t a better finisher than Javier, his versatility just about nudges him ahead of the likeable Mexican. To cut a long story short, Javier’s chances of nailing down a first team spot at Manchester United are now more remote than ever.
So when Valencia came calling for him this summer, to replace the Spurs-bound Soldado, few loyal fans would have held it against him if he pushed for a move away. But, as his agent Eduardo Hernández made it clear, he had no such plans.
“The interest from Valencia was real, but Javier, I reiterate, wants to stay at Manchester United. He knows it’s a very competitive club and that he has to fight to play every day, in the dressing room and on the training ground, but he’s not scared, he says he’s more motivated than ever.”
Real Madrid had been intensely chasing after Gareth Bale of Tottenham for what seemed like an eternity. The amount of money they were willing to pay, and ultimately paid, for him, was astronomical. Bale is one of the most highly-rated young players today and is already proven in the toughest league in the world.
But somewhere in the middle of escalating negotiations between the two clubs, Tottenham thought of rekindling their long standing interest in Hernández. They were apparently ready to sell Bale to United for a sum of £60 million+ and the Mexican. Real Madrid, had they been given such an option, might not have been able to resist the temptation.
But Manchester United declined the offer. “United were not interested in selling Hernández” was the word. United had already made it clear they had enough money for such a deal. Their interest in Bale was no secret. Yet United still refused the Londoners in favour of someone who wasn’t even a regular starter. That and the fact that Spurs were willing to sell Bale to United, a club in the same league as them and previous transfer dealings with whom had reportedly left their fans unimpressed, said a lot about how much both the clubs valued Hernández. One way or the other, by sheer layman logic, Javier Hernández shouldn’t be pulling on a red shirt this season.
But he will. And the reasons are much deeper than those visible to the outsider. A matter of quality intensely intertwined with loyalty has led to this unique covalent bond between the player and the club, something non-existent in today’s short-sighted materialistic world. And it started forming the moment the story began.
“The first time I spoke to Jim Lawlor, I didn’t believe it that he was from United. The first I heard about it was when my father said to me there’s a person interested in you, he wants to talk with you, and he gave me Jim Lawlor’s card with the United badge on it. I didn’t know if it was genuine or not, because some agents in Mexico have cards on which they put the badges of all the big teams of the world, so I thought ‘OK, it’s one more of them, OK’. But my father told me ‘No, it’s really Manchester United’. I said to him ‘Don’t joke with me about that,’ but when I saw my father crying, I knew it was really true, that it was Manchester United.”
Javier isn’t one to forget his beginnings. And United would always have a special place in his heart. Since then he has gone on to score 50 goals for the biggest club in the world, 35 goals for his country, won the Gold Cup for Mexico and two League medals in the toughest league in the world. He’s a fan favourite at Old Trafford and a national icon back home. And he’s still just 25.
At a club like Manchester United, versatility counts for almost as much as individual talent. Sir Alex always had a thing for versatile players and with his masterful abilities as a shrewd squad juggler, having versatile players at his disposal had a decisive effect on many a title races. Of Sir Alex’s final squad – Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Wayne Rooney, Tom Cleverley, Luis Nani, Antonio Valencia, Jonny Evans, Shinji Kagawa, Robin van Persie, Michael Carrick and Danny Welbeck could all play in more positions than one. And this is where Javier has often lost out.
In games where the levels of both the teams are so well matched that the only deciding factors turn out to be tactics or luck, having versatile players offers added venom to the squad. And being a player for a fixed position, Javier isn’t suited for such games. He has realized that. He has since been trying his best to improve himself as best as he possibly can. And every single time we’ve since seen him play, the efforts have showed. He has been able to bag assists for the squad as well. If luck would’ve allowed it, he’d have bagged another assist in our last game against Liverpool, even if he was just a late substitute. His was a short but promising display.
Robin van Persie, for all his endless magnificence and sensuous extravagance, isn’t forever. He’s 30 now. Wayne Rooney is more likely to be deployed behind the striker, than up front, to let him express himself throughout the length of the pitch the way he does best. Danny Welbeck, for all his limitless potential and crucial versatility, hasn’t been the greatest finisher the club has ever had. That nicely opens up a window of opportunity for the hard-working Mexican and there is every reason for him to be given ample chances throughout the season. He’s been around the club long enough to understand that.
Yet the reason why Manchester United have held on to Javier is much more than a case of backup. In spite of all the overflowing wealth in forwards at United, Javier offers something completely different than the rest – something which has been in steady decline in modern football – the poacher’s instinct.
The rise in creative forward– the player who can play in multiple positions up top and track back, hold up play, bring others into attack, get up ahead and be ready to play the final pass or score – has seen a simultaneous decrease in the breed of Inzaghis and Nistelrooys. If this were to continue, football would be robbed off a whole generation of poachers – leading the line, stretching defences, getting caught offside and then being in the right place at the right time to net the ball in. A poacher’s focus isn’t diluted into multiple aspects of the game and their senses, thus, retain their single undivided attention on the most decisive footballing aspect – sensing a goal and scoring it.
Hernández is a rare breed, a talented poacher and prolific goal scorer. For that reason, in spite of his recent lack of opportunities, it is vital that the Mexican’s talents shine through and flourish at Old Trafford- for the sake of football itself, as a fan of football, it is important to see Javier Hernández succeed and resurrect the need for goal poachers around the world. And what better stage to do that than at the Theatre of Dreams! So when the time is right, let’s all clear the stage, take our seats and be ready to be enthralled, this time, by the Mexican Dream.