Manchester United’s recent history is littered with world class finishers, from Andy Cole to Ruud van Nistelrooy to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. These goalscoring aces spearheaded United’s domestic domination over the past 15 years and supporters were treated to some special nights. Now another talented striker is ready to make his case on the road to equalling the legendary stars who breathed new life into the club.
The signing of Javier Hernandez, or Chicharito (“Little Pea”) as he is known, may not have created a frenzied response among supporters, but with every passing week, the Mexican striker looks like being one of the difference makers for Sir Alex Ferguson this season as United seek revenge for an underwhelming end to the last campaign.
From some frequently-watched clips of his Guadalajara days to his classy finish against Argentina at the World Cup to his hugely promising displays in pre-season, Chicharito has caught everyone’s attention over the past month or so and he has deflected some of the negativity surrounding the lack of big money additions at Old Trafford. At £7M, he could turn out to be the bargain of the summer.
And though the 22-year-old is likely to begin the campaign on the bench behind the Wayne Rooney-Dimitar Berbatov front line, the Mexican will have every chance to force his way into the first team. Berbatov has yet to convince Ferguson that he has the desire and consistency to spearhead the attack while Rooney and Michael Owen have had their share of injuries. The United boss will also be keen to rest Rooney when opportunities arise.
Many have already seen enough to boldly predict Chicharito will score 15-20 goals this season and, having watched the youngster seamlessly slot into the side during the pre-season tour of North America, it is hard to argue with that opinion. Chicharito only joined the tour for the final two games – in Houston against the MLS All-Stars and then against former club Guadalajara – but he scored in both games and looked a constant menace on the shoulder of the last defender.
Another goal in Dublin against the Airtricity League of Ireland XI continued the hot streak and, with Ferguson shuffling the pack for the Community Shield, Chicharito received his biggest opportunity to date at Wembley against Chelsea. The youngster came off the bench at half time, instantly picked up the pace of the game and scored United’s second goal from Antonio Valencia’s perfect cross. His finish was somewhat fortuitous, but he was in the right place at the right time – à la Cole, Van Nistelrooy and Solskjaer.
Chicharito showed his vision with a clever reverse ball for Berbatov and, with Paul Scholes putting on a passing masterclass in midfield, the Mexican’s movement gave John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic fits. Terry, in particular, had a torrid afternoon, but United fans certainly liked what they witnessed at Wembley.
It has been a whirlwind journey for the youngster, who claims to be living a dream since arriving in England. Guadalajara was both his home and his team until United scouts spotted his potential. Ferguson explained more to the official Manchester United website, revealing: ‘We first received some background knowledge of the boy last October. One of our scouts went to Mexico in December and watched a few games – the reports that came back were very good. At that time we thought we’d just wait because he was only young.
‘But then he came into the national team and that created a potential problem: if he went to the World Cup and did well at the tournament then we could be in danger of losing him. So I sent our chief scout, Jim Lawlor, over to Mexico for three weeks to watch him and get some more background on the boy. While Jim was there, Chicharito played twice for the national team and also for Chivas: he scored in every game.’ And Ferguson did not hesitate in sealing a deal that seems to position the club nicely for the future.
It is also a promising sign that Ferguson has likened Chicharito to Solskjaer, who became a fan favourite at Old Trafford for his grounded personality, clinical finishing and that goal in Barcelona in 1999.
After the friendly against Guadalajara this summer, the Scot commented: ‘There are similarities between him and Solskjaer. He showed real quality. The players have all remarked what a great finisher he is.’
Though Chelsea still present a huge obstacle this season for the Red Devils, United look the sharper and more motivated of the two teams on the evidence of their Community Shield duel. But if Ferguson is going to reclaim Premier League superiority this season, he will need significant contributions from his younger charges. Chicharito is already answering the call.