Javier Hernandez: Dad cried when United came calling…now I’m ready to face Barca

May 27th, 2011

Discussions about Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest signings at Manchester United could last long into the night. Some names – Cantona, Keane, Schmeichel, Ronaldo – would come quickly. Others – Solskjaer, Vidic, Irwin – would perhaps have to work harder to make the list.

Now, though, there is a new name to consider. Well three, to be precise. Call him Hernandez, Chicharito or Little Pea, it doesn’t really matter. After just one season in the toughest league of all, the man who will wear the No 14 jersey for Manchester United at Wembley on Saturday night already has a strong case.

Big men have failed at United, creaked, groaned and fallen under the pressure. Reputations alone have failed to see many gifted footballers gain Ferguson’s trust.

For Hernandez, though, the impish Mexican striker signed under the radar for £7million ahead of last summer’s World Cup, 20 goals have done his bidding.

Goalscorers of Hernandez’s ilk are rare these days. Quick, twofooted, brave and blessed with a natural sense of space, time and anticipation, he is a Lineker of the modern age.

‘It’s still hard to believe what has happened this season,’ Hernandez said ahead of the game against Barcelona. ‘I thought that when I was getting my medal and the Premier League trophy last Sunday.

‘When I came here my first thought was that I needed to work very hard to get a lot of minutes. But what has happened has taken me completely by surprise.’

In South Africa last summer, we saw glimpses of the talent Ferguson had acquired. Goals against France and Argentina in the World Cup were adroitly taken. There was no fuss about Hernandez’s execution and there has not been any since.

It is remarkable that this young footballer is not 23 until Wednesday. He began the season as a squad player but has eased effortlessly ahead of Dimitar Berbatov and the fading Michael Owen. He will begin the game tonight simply because Ferguson cannot leave him out.

‘He has surprised us,’ the United manager said this week. ‘There is no doubt about that. His progress has been fantastic.’

hThat United found Hernandez playing for Guadalajara says much for the extensive nature of their scouting. The story of the moment Hernandez learned of Ferguson’s interest, though, is one that he will perhaps never tire of telling. In its own way, it will provide hope to many young footballers around the world who wait for the knock on the door.

‘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 (United chief scout) Jim Lawlor’s card with the “MU” badge on it,’ Hernandez said with a smile.

‘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”. But my father told me: “No, it’s really Manchester United”.

‘I said to him, “Don’t joke with me about that” and then, when I saw my father crying, I knew it was really true, that it was United.’

Talk to Hernandez – look into his hazel eyes – and you see a boy staring back. The closeness he maintains with his family – his father gave up his job as reserve manager at Guadalajara to go to the World Cup last summer – only accentuates a slight impression of immaturity.

On the field, though, teams like Chelsea will testify to his stature as a goalscorer. Having scored against them in the Champions League quarter-final, he tore the heart out of their Barclays Premier League challenge with a goal after 36 seconds earlier this month.

That, in many ways, was Hernandez at his best. Ruthless and nerveless. Unlike Berbatov, who scores goals in clusters, the Mexican scores them when they matter most. Late winners, equalisers. Goals that leave opponents winded.

Only two or three years ago, Hernandez almost quit football. By full-time on Saturday night, Barcelona defenders may wish he had. ‘Yes, it’s true that I almost gave up,’ he said. ‘The coach at my club wasn’t playing me. I was a little bit frustrated.

‘My confidence started to go down and I asked my father and my family whether I was still right to play football. I just wanted to play but I would always go to the reserves. Without my family I may have quit.

‘They said that I spent a lot of my time doing this and trying to make my dream come true so not to give it up.

‘They said to keep fighting, keep focused and that the most important thing was to keep enjoying the game because I am very lucky. People all over the world want to be football players.’

To anyone who has watched him play, Hernandez’s faith in God is apparent. His pre-match prayer, delivered on both knees on the halfway line, has become a familiar ritual.

This too, it transpires, has its roots in the time when the teenage Hernandez was finding professional football a little too much to deal with.

‘I started doing that when I was considering quitting,’ he recalled. ‘When I started playing a bit more, I started to do that only to say thank you (to God) for helping me.

On Saturday night Hernandez will play in the biggest game of his life. Remarkably, though, he goes into it with very little left to prove.


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