Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has a problem.
The problem is that with three whips of a left foot, the second already classed a stroke of genius, Manchester United’s Dutch maestro Robin van Persie sealed the club’s thirteenth Premier League title on Monday.
This may not sound like a problem but it is. A most paradoxical one.
The reason is that aside from sealing the title, one other thing indelibly confirmed on Monday night with his every single pass to van Persie was that Wayne Rooney was and still is very much the Dutchman’s strike partner.
Hernandez, who could start for virtually any other team in the world, had to look on. But with another winner’s medal in his trophy cabinet, he may have to make a choice in the coming off-season. Should he stay at one of the biggest teams in the world but get accustomed to ever diminishing minutes on the pitch? Or leave for pastures new where there may be more time on offer and goals to snag and certainly more appreciation for his undoubted talents?
Because the fact of the matter is the numbers for “Chicharito” don’t lie. During this triumphant season he has scored 16 goals in all competitions, as many as his striking rival and teammate Wayne Rooney. Both have made over 30 appearances in the league but Hernandez has made close to half as a substitute, while Rooney has only made five as a replacement. What does this mean? More goals in much less time.
As for Danny Welbeck, the fourth striker at Alex Ferguson’s disposal, his 39 appearances dwarf everyone else’s but he only mustered two whole goals the entire season — something that doesn't paint the prettiest of pictures.
So why does Chicharito get so little love from a manager who was bought as a youngster from Chivas for a mere reported $8 million and who has already become the sixth highest scorer for the Mexican national team in history?
“I think Chicharito isn’t really a Manchester United type of striker,” explains Leander Schaerlaeckens, the soccer columnist for Fox Sports. “Compared to the way they [Manchester United] have employed strikers over the last few years, he’s a bit of a poacher. I think the reason why Welbeck and Rooney get picked over him is that Rooney can play deeper and create chances.”
But are goals not the key to winning games and the primary stock of any striker?
“If we leave goals aside for the moment, at clubs like Manchester United [goals] are going to come from a lot of places,” notes Schaerlaeckens. “So I don’t think there is a concern about how many goals their strikers get. Danny Welbeck gets fewer goals but is more useful to Alex Ferguson’s system, by putting a lot of pressure on defenders. Those are the things that Hernandez doesn’t really do.”
But one thing Hernandez undoubtedly does do is score. With fewer minutes on the pitch and the fewest number of appearances this season than in his entire Manchester United career thus far, Hernandez was still able to hit the net more than anyone else, aside from van Persie. In fact, in this year’s European Champion’s League, Hernandez managed three goals. While seemingly a low total, it was from six appearances with only one coming as a sub and three times as many as Wayne Rooney could muster in Europe’s premier competition.
So with reported interest from the endless wallet of Paris St-Germain and some potential suitors from Italy’s Serie A, a league where poachers of Hernandez’s kind are valued highly, is a move abroad a more suitable place?
“I think that maybe he would be a better fit for another club in another country,” concludes Schaerlaeckens. “I would think that maybe in Italy or to a certain extent Spain he would probably, not only start all the time but he would be more productive as those are playing styles that can afford to have one striker who stays high and hangs around the goal.”
Perhaps Hernandez has the potential to become a Samuel Eto’o or Filippo Inzaghi style striker, who feasts endlessly on through balls and upfield errors. Perhaps. Or perhaps a team like Juventus would see him as a much more prized asset than Alex Ferguson ever has. One only has to remember in the way Dimitar Berbatov was cast aside at Manchester United despite being the league’s leading scorer in 2011. The system changed and so did the appeal of a premier talent such as the Bulgarian.
But one thing is certain. If Hernandez chose to bide his time at the Manchester giants, there will never be a guarantee that it could lead to an increase in playing time.
“Even in a season or two when van Persie might not play as many games, Welbeck is only going to get better, so we won’t see Hernandez playing a lot more,” concludes Schaerlaeckens.
“If he wants to play drastically more then he is going to have to leave.”
Fans may remember how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer became synonymous at Manchester United as a substitute. In fact his exploits at coming off the bench became legendary. But he was happy to do that his entire career. The real question is how happy is Javier Hernandez at doing that and for how much longer?
Igor Guryashkin is a freelance journalist whose extensive work on combat sports has been featured in ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He splits his time between New York and Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @IGuryashkinESPN.