From nearly quitting soccer to starting a Champions League final in a handful of months, Hernandez's most impressive attribute is his humility.Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez is so good, he doesn't even need to touch the ball to score anymore.
In the fledgling minutes of a friendly against Serbia, Hernandez darted toward the near side to meet a Carlos Salcido cross with defender Slobodan Rajkovic close behind. Neither made contact with the ball though they were a mere pea's width away. That so surprised goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic, who had moved to his right to cover the near post, he allowed the ball to trickle in on his left.
Even as Mexico waltzed and whirled to an impressive 2-0 win ("We played free, we played calm," Salcido said according to Medio Tempo), to Serbia's credit the defense tightened after that. Stojkovic snapped out of his daze to pull off a number of solid blocks, and the backline took turns figuring out who could kick Hernandez as high in the air as possible.
Manchester City defender Aleksandar Kolarov won that particular competition. Though Branislav Ivanovic also collected a yellow for a rough challenge, Kolarov stupidly shoved Hernandez in the box to earn his second caution.
Follow ZAC LEE RIGG on or shoot him an email.
Chicharito slid home the penalty in the 87th minute and then coach Jose Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre yanked him out of the game in case any other Serbian defenders tried to one-up Kolarov.
De la Torre had left the Manchester United striker in the match as long as he could, knowing El Tri needed the insurance goal with Serbia wrestling back possession in the second half. The win marked Chepo's first on home soil (admittedly, his chances have been limited: an agreement with Soccer United Marketing sees Mexico play five friendlies a year in the United States) and was Mexico's first home win against a European opponent in 17 years.
For Hernandez, the penalty marked his 23rd goal in 25 international starts (33 appearances total). He scores for El Tri once every 96.8 minutes of field-time.
Really, his goalscoring record is the only scandalous aspect of the 23-year-old. This is a player who, when he traveled to the World Cup in 2010, still lived with his parents and studied business administration at Universidad del Valle de Atemajac. The city of Manchester is rife with stories of his random acts of kindness, including giving a signed jersey and poster to the son of a women who helped him overcome the language barrier at a shop.
"I will always be the same kid, with my feet always on the ground," he told ESPN after signing with United. "I am, first and foremost, a human being."
Hernandez is the anti-Balotelli – the calm, kind kid who somehow becomes even more polite and respectful as the zeros add up in his bank account (he signed a new five-year deal with the Red Devils in October). He's the goalscorer with gaudy stats who somehow isn't greedy.
"I scored a goal but it is Manchester United that scored," Hernandez said after notching the equalizer in a 1-1 tie against Liverpool on Oct. 15. "It doesn’t matter who scored the goals. There are no heroes here."
Perhaps not, but Hernandez is certainly beloved in Mexico if the feminine shrieks when he scored against Serbia are anything to go by.
Hernandez started playing for Chivas in his hometown of Guadalajara at 9 years old. He signed his first contract at 15, but up until then his father, Javier 'Chicharo' Hernandez (the son derives his nickname and piercing green eyes from his sire), didn't think his boy would take up the family profession.
Chicharito's maternal grandfather, Tomas Balcazar, scored five goals in four qualifying matches to lead Mexico to the 1954 World Cup. There, he notched against France at 22 years of age. Hernandez senior played for El Tri in the 1986 World Cup.
But if the three generations of Mexican strikers seems predestined now (Hernandez the younger symmetrically scored against France in the World Cup at 22 years of age), it wasn't always assured. Chicharito didn't make the Mexico roster that won the U17 World Cup in 2005 with attacking talent like Carlos Vela and Giovani Dos Santos. At 20, Chicharito considered dropping soccer altogether to concentrate on his university studies. He saw younger players pass him into the full team and wondered if he had a future as a starter.
Talks with his agent, parents, grandparents and girlfriend eventually reminded him that soccer was his passion, and he decided to continue.
That year, he went on to score 21 goals in 28 games for Chivas. Less than 12 months later, he was on a plane to watch Manchester United face Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, meet Sir Alex Ferguson and sign for the Red Devils.
United was presciently eager to tie down the prodigy before he excelled in South Africa and demanded secrecy in the deal so that no Spanish teams could scupper it, meaning Chicharito told his grandfather he was flying to Atlanta on holiday up until a day before he left. Balcazar says he burst into tears and nearly had a heart-attack upon learning of the deal.
The entire family, grandpops included, moved to England with Chicharito. Earlier, Chicharo had quit his job as Chivas reserve team manager when the club didn't grant him time off to watch his son in the World Cup. "Work is secondary," he explained.
Like the Bluths, family comes first for the Hernandezes. However, Chicharito knows how to get down to business as well. He scored 20 goals in all competitions his first season in England, with Ferguson crediting the Mexican's form for dropping Premier League top scorer Dimitar Berbatov; Hernandez started the Champions League final with the Bulgarian in the stands.
Chicharito's clinical edge is one of the main reasons Mexico has retaken control in CONCACAF after nearly a decade of U.S. dominance. Hernandez scored seven goals in six games to finish top scorer and MVP of the latest Gold Cup, which Mexico won.
The Americans have lacked incision up top ever since Charlie Davies' automobile accident scythed the striker down before his prime. In his stead, the burly Jozy Altidore has led the line with a bluntness that contrasts with the razor runs of Hernandez, who posted the top speed of any player at the 2010 World Cup at 32.15 kilometers/hour (nearly 20 miles/hour).
Aside from pace, Chicharito's movement flummoxes defensive lines and his gentleness is belied by sheer ruthlessness in front of goal. In the Premier League, Hernandez puts 62 percent of his shots on target. Of his 17 league goals, three have come from his left foot, eight from his right and six from headers. Even at only 5-feet, 9-inches, Hernandez is adept at using his noggin, not to mention his impressive vert.
"You think, OK, here's this little midget," Jesus Padilla, Hernandez's teammate at Chivas for three years, told the New York Times. "But he's got some serious hops. He's amazing in the air."
As youth players in the Guadalajara system, Padilla showed more promise. Instead his middling career has meandered, taking him to Major League Soccer and the Mexican second tier on loan deals, while Hernandez matured into the continent's biggest star. If you had told the future to a teenaged Chicharito, he probably wouldn't have believed you.
"Suddenly I'm going to be playing with the players I know from PlayStation and television," Hernandez said when he signed for Manchester United. "I'm living in a dream."