Hernandez future in doubt as Van Persie arrival prompts Manchester United striker reshuffle

Doubts over the Mexican's health a factor in the swoop for the Arsenal captain, who will leapfrog Chicharito and Danny Welbeck in the Old Trafford pecking order
By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent

In an era of single striker systems and lone frontmen, four into one does not quite go.

Manchester United supporters can readily highlight left-back and, most pertinently, central midfield as the most obvious positional deficiencies in their squad.

By contrast, the centre-forward role was seemingly already well catered for before Robin van Persie put the squeeze on Arsenal so tight that they felt they had no choice but to sell their star player to once bitter rivals Manchester United.

Wayne Rooney, England’s talisman, Danny Welbeck, who started all four of England’s matches at Euro 2012, and Javier Hernandez, the prolific Mexican, are already on the payroll at Old Trafford.

Michael Carrick thinks Robin van Persie will be a great addition to Manchester United
That is without jotting down the name of Dimitar Berbatov, the forgotten man who was joint leading Premier League scorer in 2010-11 before suffering a severe demotion down the pecking order at the end of that season from which his career has to yet recover.

Sir Alex Ferguson has replaced injury-ravaged Michael Owen with the reigning PFA and Football Writers’ Association player of the year, the ready-made star who has just come off a stunning 37-goal season, the best of his career.

As Owen himself Tweeted on Wednesday night: “Rooney, Van Persie, Berbatov, Welbeck, Hernandez. Do strike forces get any stronger? RVP is some buy for United. Not sure a striker was their top priority but when someone like that becomes available you just have to get him.”

Senior United officials will feel they have answered at a stroke the thundering criticism from rank-and-file fans that they are no longer a major player in the transfer market.

They have bought a player at the peak of his powers who has eight seasons of Premier League experience and can justifiably call himself one of the elite strikers in Europe. He should not require much acclimatisation time.

Yet, where does van Persie fit into the Old Trafford equation? On the face of it, putting the ball in the back of the net was not the team’s chief failing. Only Manchester City (93) scored more than United’s 89 league goals last season.

Yet Sir Alex Ferguson was often to be found post match stood in front of a television camera bemoaning his team’s ability to finish off the chances they created. In the team’s disastrous European campaign last season, this was an even more alarming issue.

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The gaping absence of a midfield sergeant who can control matches seems to be Ferguson’s blind spot.

He appears content to trust in Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Tom Cleverley, Ryan Giggs and Anderson for another season, who are all adequate partners for a midfield chief rather than the ideal central pivot of the team.

Up front, the options for the United manager are so rich and varied, it is enough to have the 70-year-old Scot skipping to the training ground every day.

For Berbatov, the writing is on the wall. His career as a serious United player is over. It is time to find a new club and move on from one of football’s grandest stages.

There is also a question mark over the future of Hernandez, the 'Little Pea' who, it was assumed, would grow into a jolly green giant following his brilliant debut season.

There are strong rumours within coaching circles that the smiling penalty box assassin will not quite develop into the striker that everyone at Old Trafford had hoped because of health issues.

The 24-year-old has not quite been the same player since suffering concussion during the club’s pre-season tour of the US 13 months ago.

United played it down at the time and since, but the doctor at his former club Chivas de Guadalajara made the alarming observation that Hernandez had suffered from neurological problems since he was a teenager, which often manifested itself as “acute migraines”.

There are those within the game who believe there was more to his flat second season at Old Trafford than simply sophomore syndrome.

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Hernandez was mostly usurped by Welbeck as Rooney’s strike partner last season, even though the 21-year-old England striker found himself consigned to the bench during the club’s crucial end-of-season fixtures.

Perhaps it is the club’s spluttering form in April and May which persuaded Ferguson that Van Persie was the answer.

If 4-4-1-1 is to be the formation of choice for United this season, then there will be two striker positions available, rather the one at most clubs.

Welbeck, with a new contract yet to be signed, has no doubt been told he can expect plenty of opportunities.

But he will not be so naïve as to think he will be anything other than third in the pecking order at Old Trafford.

How can he be any higher when he limbers up for his morning stretch at Carrington and sees the two leading scorers in the English top tier last season, who plundered 72 goals between them, going through their warm-up routines?

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