GUADALAJARA - It was four years ago on Tuesday (April 8) that Chivas striker Javier Hernandez appeared on the front pages of newspapers in his hometown of Guadalajara, with a wide smile and an almost startled expression. He also happened to be holding a Manchester United shirt with his “Chicharito” nickname on the back.
While media outlets in the UK scrambled to find out the backstory on the then-21-year-old, in Mexico it was a shock to see “Little Pea” – the translation for “Chicharito” in Mexican-Spanish (it would mean nothing, for example, in Spain) – parading the red of the famous English club.
At that point, Hernandez had made his name primarily because of the fact his father Javier “Chicharo” Hernandez and maternal grandfather Tomas Balcazar had both played for Mexico’s national team, as well as his recent spate of goalscoring for Chivas.
But while he had broken into the national team squad and scored 21 goals in 28 games in the previous two (split) seasons in Mexico’s first division, not many had expected a club as big as United to come in.
More likely, it seemed, was the path Hernandez’s former Chivas teammates Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez and Carlos Salcido had taken to a club like PSV in Holland.
Even the most successful Mexican exports to Europe – Rafa Marquez, Hugo Sanchez - had both played for smaller clubs before featuring for Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively.
The Hernandez move was new territory for Mexican football. No other player had gone from the Mexican league straight to one of the world’s elite clubs.
At first, everything Chicharito touched turned to goals, with the Mexican netting twice for El Tri in the World Cup, for Chivas against Manchester United in a friendly to inaugurate the Estadio Omnilife and then in the Charity Shield in his official debut against Chelsea.
Talk of how many league cup games Hernandez may get in his first season shifted quickly. The striker scored 13 goals in his first Premier League season and completed 90 minutes in the Champions League final against Barcelona within a year of officially signing for the Red Devils.
Since then, ten goals in the 2011/2012 season and another ten in the 2012/2013 were good hauls, although the signing of Robin Van Persie reduced Chicharito to just nine Premier League starts in the latter.
That trend continued as Sir Alex Ferguson made way for David Moyes in the summer of 2013. The new manager perhaps didn’t have the authority his predecessor had to chop and change the team and keep everyone quite so happy, or he simply hasn’t taken to the Mexican.
“It’s been a very hard season for me, but I’m trying to be very patient, and to work to try to speak on the pitch,” Hernandez admitted to MUTV after Saturday’s match against Newcastle United.
But while this might not be Chicharito’s happiest moment since moving to northwest England, his achievements thus far shouldn’t be under-appreciated, especially with the national team – with which he is just 11 goals from becoming its highest-ever scorer.
At 25 years old, he may be at somewhat of a crossroads in his career and an Old Trafford exit is possible this summer, but he’s on the way, at a minimum, to becoming one of Mexico’s top three players of all time. And that’s even before he really enters his prime.