From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.33 :: NO.39 :: Sep. 30, 2010

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FOOTBALL

Chicharito wins over critics

Alex Ferguson seems to have unearthed a gem in Mexico's Javier Hernandez and has been praised for having the intuition to clinch the deal before the World Cup started. By Tom Bowles.

When Manchester United announced the signing of Javier Hernandez in April, the transfer was greeted with little fanfare. Most fans and pundits had never heard of the young Mexican striker, let alone seen him play.

Some saw it as an indictment of United's perceived financial woes under American owner Malcolm Glazer; further proof they could no longer afford to sign the truly top players. Those less cynical were surprised to see Sir Alex Ferguson gamble on another Latin American player following the failures of Diego Forlan and Juan Sebastian Veron.

But what a difference a summer can make. Hernandez, nicknamed ‘Chicharito' or ‘little pea' because of his green eyes, was one of the few bright sparks of a disappointing World Cup.

South Africa was the first chance for United fans to see the 22-year-old in action. He did not disappoint, displaying his keen eye for goal with strikes against France and Argentina. FIFA also named him the tournament's fastest player after he reached a top speed of 32kmph.

Ferguson seems to have unearthed a gem in Hernandez and has been praised for having the intuition to clinch the deal before the tournament started. The United boss himself admitted his value would have at least doubled had the club waited any longer.

Hernandez followed with an impressive pre-season by grabbing his first competitive goal on his United debut, the second in their 3-1 Community Shield win over Chelsea last month. Lady Luck seems to be on his side, too. Six yards out and with the goal at his mercy, he scored via a bizarre deflection off his face. He celebrated by running over to the United fans and kissing the badge on his shirt.

Rather than being just a way of ingratiating himself to his new supporters, for Hernandez, playing for United, alongside the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, is significant. “These are people I would watch on the television and would even play with them on PlayStation,” he said. “I dreamed of one day being able to play with all of them and I'm going to try to learn from them everything I can.”

He is eager to hit the ground running. “I want to add my little grain of sand because this is a team sport,” he said. “I want to win a title. I want us to be a great team.”

Born in Guadalajara, he is the third generation of a famous Mexican soccer dynasty. His dad Javier Hernandez Gutierrez and grand-dad Tomas Balcazar both played for the national team and in two previous World Cups.

He joined Club Deportivo Guadalajara — known in Mexico as Chivas — signing his first professional contract at 15. After making his senior debut in 2006, he soon developed into a first-team regular and finished joint-third top scorer in the 2009 Apertura, with 11 goals in 17 appearances. Having caught the attention of United scouts in October 2009, he hit a further 10 goals in 11 games in the 2010 Torneo Bicentenario

United chief scout Jim Lawlor travelled to Mexico for three weeks in February and March 2010 and filed a glowing report on Hernandez. He was not only impressed by his footballing ability, but also his attributes off the pitch.

Hernandez neither drinks nor smokes and prefers to live a quiet life, like simply going home to rest after training. He is bright and articulate and speaks fluent English. He has also studied for a degree in business.

Chicharito insists he is not fazed by the expectation playing for a big club. “I always try to see pressure in a different way, more like motivation,” he said. “There are millions of people in the world who would do anything to be in my position and have this opportunity. 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.”

Two years ago Hernandez considered quitting football and returning to school after becoming fed up with warming the Chivas bench. Only the advice of his father and grandfather convinced him to continue.

He has been seeing girlfriend Leticia Sahagun for two years. Known as ‘Lety', she is 22 and born in Guadalajara. She studies International Studies at Mexican University Monterrey Tec, but may soon be moving to Manchester.

Given United's sponsorship deal with Audi, it is likely that Hernandez drives around in a top-of-the-range model from the German manufacturer's extensive collection.

FACTFILE

Name: Javier Hernandez,

Position: Striker

Club: Manchester United

D.O.B: 01/06/88

Mexico Caps: 17

Mexico Goals: 10

Mexico Debut: v Colombia 2009

Moment to remember: In 2010, he scored his first ever World Cup goal in Mexico's 2-0 win over France. Springing the offside trap, he clinically rounded the goalkeeper and slotted the ball home, thus emulating his grandfather who scored in the 1954 World Cup against France.

Moment to forget: Hernandez failed to score in 10 consecutive games during the 2008 Apertura season and contemplated retirement after finding himself increasingly on the bench.

© PA Sport, 2010, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.



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