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Rosarito, Mexico, is a sleepy town just south of Tijuana. A mere 20-minute drive from the border, it is often a popular weekend destination for Americans looking for a quick escape to Baja. It is precisely the tourism industry that allowed Rosarito to break away from Tijuana in the mid-90s in order to become its own city and county.
On any given day, hundreds of cars with California and Arizona license plates run through Rosarito's main avenue. Vendors peddle candy, fried goods and even sundresses and straw hats on the beach while the crowds take in the sun and generally avoid the chilly Pacific Ocean water.
Amidst the sunbathers, there is always a group of barefooted people playing soccer on the beach. Until fairly recently, this is where you would find Hector Herrera plying his trade.
The 22-year-old midfielder and Olympic gold medalist who has caught the eye of Premier League powers Manchester United and Liverpool, is suddenly Rosarito's favorite son as the Pachuca man looks to cement a dream European move. Meanwhile, his rapid ascent has taken the domestic fold by storm.
Herrera has gotten so unexpectedly good so fast, that it's befuddled even the Pachuca employees who have watched him. Their struggle to explain it is coupled with an overwhelming excitement and pride for the player. The story of his arrival to the club is shrouded in mystery, almost achieving mythological status.
I've heard all of four versions from people who either work for Pachuca, did so in the past or cover the team on a regular basis.
There's the boring, run-of-the-mill story that states Herrera caught on during a scouting mission in Tijuana. The yarn that features a desperate Herrera who signed on for a lower-division team that just happened to be a feeder for Los Tuzos. The recommendation from a local coach who just so happened to have an old friend working for Pachuca. And then there's my favorite, the story of Herrera being spotted by a vacationing scout on the beaches of Rosarito, running rings around the rest of the barefooted players.
Whatever the true story is, Herrera's present is all the more tantalizing. The U-23 star has been tracked by Liverpool and now Manchester United. With the transfer window shutting on Aug. 31, pressure to get a deal done is mounting. With the Reds appearing to have the inside track, rumors have swirled stating that Sir Alex Ferguson has launched a monstrous offer for Herrera, with 10 million pounds (around $15.8 million) being the most commonly cited number.
Voted the Toulon Tournament's MVP as well as the Liga MX Rookie of the Tournament in 2011, Herrera's game is anything but flashy. A classic box-to-box midfielder who is equally adept at halting advances from opposing players as he is creating opportunities by distributing the ball or shooting on goal, El Zorrillo (The Skunk) wowed scouts in London as one of Mexico's key cogs en route to the gold medal.
The craziest part of this story is, quite frankly, that no one is losing their mind over the reported offer. For years, the idea of Mexico exporting talented players wholesale to Europe has been absolutely foreign due to the fact that Liga MX teams pay their players exceedingly well. Player ambition was usually curtailed by the hefty paychecks coupled with the comfort of playing at home.
Just two years ago, Manchester United shook up the Mexican market by purchasing Javier Hernandez for 8 million pounds, breaking the record for the most expensive transfer for a Mexican player coming from the Mexican league. Herrera's higher bid denotes the respect United has for the midfielder's talent, and also how far the market for players in Mexico has grown in the past few years.
Even with the constant shuffle of personnel and money issues at Liverpool, and the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson declared that no new signings would be coming into United during this current break, the idea that Herrera could land in Europe fairly soon is pretty spot on. Pachuca's desire to hang on to Herrera and mount a title run with a talented squad featuring Raul Tamudo, Paulo da Silva and Nery Castillo (the player responsible for the most expensive Mexican transfer ever) this season remains relevant.
A January exit is more likely. Even if Herrera doesn't ultimately suit up for a glamorous club like United, rest assured whoever ends up landing him will pay a pretty penny and further widen the open doorway for Mexican players to start signing for European teams.
All the more motivation for the younger generation to strut their stuff on Rosarito Beach.
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