While the focus of Manchester United’s summer for many supporters has been the search for the ‘new’ Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney’s hairline or even how to pronounce David de Gea, for Javier Hernández it may well be how to match or improve on a fantastic début season at Old Trafford.
The Mexican, who scored 20 goals in 45 games last season, arrived with little expectation but announced himself on the biggest stage with a fortuitous goal against Chelsea in the Community Shield. The goal proved a sign of a season to come.
Yet, after the bright start Hernández – Chicharito – struggles with the Premier League’s physicality, especially in United’s disappointing 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage. It said much for the player’s quality and determination to improve that Hernández reassured Ferguson with a magnificent finish away from home against Valencia to seal an unconvincing win in September.
Arguably, however, the real turning point in Hernández’ season was the fantastic double against Stoke City at the Britannia in October.
“There was a game that really made me realise that I could have an interesting season. It was the match against Stoke City in which I scored twice,” concluded the 22-year old striker in May.
“Throughout the match, I felt perfectly at ease in the game. I felt like I had been playing for Manchester United for 10 years. Thanks to my team-mates, I could express myself freely on the pitch. I think it was the pivotal game in my season. I will remember it all my life.”
From a position of strength the Mexican dislodged top scorer Dimitar Berbatov in Sir Alex Ferguson’s starting eleven and scored vital goals in both league and cup competitions. In total the 20 goals allowed Hernández to join the great Ruud van Nistlerooy in reaching the landmark in his first season at Old Trafford. van Nistelrooy went on to score 150 goals in 200 starts for United.
The immediate challenge for Hernández is to overcome the real risk of burnout so early in his career. Chicharito has been subjected to a grueling summer after a first physical season in England. First the late finish to the campaign against Barcelona at Wembley and then a highly successful Gold Cup campaign with Mexico, in which Hernández netted seven times in six games.
The striker stood out throughout the competition, despite the arguably poor quality of opposition. In the process Hernández won player of the tournament; an outstanding accolade regardless of the competition.
Ferguson will be thankful that Chicharito was left out of Mexico’s calamitous Copa America for a fear of burnout. The Mexican football association is equally protective of its star asset. The extended break afforded to the player before he joins his club compatriots in the USA for their summer is also welcome. Ferguson is no doubt extremely hesitant to overuse the nimble Mexican on this media exercise.
The scene is set for Hernández to carry his impressive summer form into the new season, although Ferguson has a plethora of options available to allow the Mexican ample time recover full fitness.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for Chicharito to now overcome is the clichéd ‘second season syndrome’ – other players have broken in to United’s first team only to fade away.
In fact Hernández could find no greater motivation than in the squad itself, with Michael Owen, once the darling of world football, now little more than Old Trafford squad filler aged just 31 Old Trafford. Hernández has a similar playing style to a young Owen – a game built on playing off the last shoulder of the last defender, matched with deadly pace. Perhaps Ferguson’s real love for Owen is to school Hernández in the fine art of finishing.
Regardless of that particular theory, the coming season remains the biggest test of Hernández’ resolve to date. Teams across the continent will have improved their understanding of United’s potent striker.
“I do not rest on my laurels. I want to do even better next season. I want to help this club to make history,” added Hernández after collecting the Supporters’ Player of the Season award in May.
Ferguson and the supporters can only hope his game has improved too.