Javier Hernandez, who scored the only goal in Manchester United’s League Cup third round tie against Liverpool on Wednesday night, can thank an encounter in Liverpool for the reason he plays in England.
The Mexican striker, whose goal gave United a much needed win following their hammering in the Manchester derby on Sunday, only became known to United’s scouts after a conversation at Liverpool’s John Moores University in 2009.
Jim Lawlor, United’s chief scout, was tipped off about Hernandez by Marco Garces, the former Mexican international footballer. Garces had spent four years studying for a sports science degree at John Moores and became friends with Lawlor, who worked at the university before joining United in 2010.
Garces returned to Mexico to work at the academy of Pachuca, the top flight Mexican side. Lawlor asked him to recommend Mexican players. The name Javier Hernandez came back in September 2009.
“I told him that he was excellent,” said Garces. “And that there was still room for improvement. I also said that he had all the attributes to do well in English football. Not only that, but that he was from a very good family with the right values. I also said that he already spoke English.”
Garces later added that Hernandez reminded him of Hugo Sanchez, the legendary Mexican striker.
United sent a scout to watch Hernandez in December 2009 and Lawlor himself visited Mexico for three weeks in February and March 2010 to make an in-depth assessment of the player.
Lawlor and Garces watched several games in Mexico. They also travelled to Los Angeles, which boasts a huge Mexican population, to watch Mexico’s 2-0 friendly win over fellow World Cup finalists New Zealand on March 3, 2010.
In the never-ending single-tiered stand of the Rose Bowl, United saw their target come off the bench in the second half to score one goal and narrowly miss another in his first 10 minutes. His goal was outstanding.
The player nicknamed “Chicharito” was still unheard of in Europe, but United had to make their move. Lawlor had seen more than enough to be convinced about his potential. He said as much to his boss, Sir Alex Ferguson.
“Jim filed a fantastic report on the boy, so last week we sent our club solicitor over there with Jim to do the deal,” said Ferguson. United would make their move for Hernandez before any of the other giants of world football stepped in.
The first United fans knew of the signing was when the news broke on April 8, 2010. It was a good day for it to happen for United had been knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich the night before.
The following year, Hernandez scored on two separate occasions against Liverpool, but he was not on the winning side in either game. Hernandez had an excellent first season at United, scoring 20 times, almost a goal every other appearance, many of which had been as a substitute. Most of his goals came in the last 15 minutes of matches and nine of the 20 were match-winning goals.
In a season which United won a record 19th league title and reached the final of the Champions League for the third time in four years, he was the only player to score in each of the five competitions United played in.
Hernandez was a hero within a season, but that first season ended on a low note as he was on the losing side as United were outclassed 3-1 by Barcelona in the Champions League final. he would become only the second Mexican after Rafael Marquez to play in a that competition’s final.
Hernandez’s best United season has so far been his first, but he scored 12 goals in his second and 18 last term. With Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie for competition, he is not an automatic starter, but he still featured in 36 games in each of the last two seasons.
If he was worried about his lack of opportunities so far this season then he was not the only one. United fans fear that they will lose him if he is not playing regularly, but while David Moyes, the new United manager, has hardly used him after a summer in which he joined the pre-season late after representing his country, he did give Hernandez a first start on Wednesday night against Liverpool.
The Mexican did not disappoint, his 46th-minute goal the only one to split the two great rivals from opposite ends of the East Lancashire Road in England’s north west. Hernandez made a clever run which saw him lose his marker, before turning a Wayne Rooney corner past Simon Mignolet in the Liverpool goal. United fans let out a cathartic roar of release, while Moyes punched the air. He needed that after Sunday’s 4-1 derby drubbing by Manchester City.
Yet Hernandez’s presence on that small patch of earth, where two of football’s greatest clubs punch well above their demographic weight, can all be traced back to a chance conversation in the unlikely setting of a Liverpool university in 2009.