x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Javier Hernandez is Manchester United's Solskjaer mark two

The Mexican is rapidly making a name for himself, earning comparisons to an Old Trafford legend, and even responsible for keeping the EPL's top scorer Berbatov out.

Javier Hernandez scored twice in Manchester United's 2-1 Champions League win over Marseille on Tuesday night. Jon Super / AP Photo
Javier Hernandez scored twice in Manchester United's 2-1 Champions League win over Marseille on Tuesday night. Jon Super / AP Photo

There are ways of measuring the speed of Javier Hernandez's progress. For instance, he is keeping Dimitar Berbatov, the Premier League's top scorer, out of the Manchester United team and is a key player in Wayne Rooney's recent revival.

Yet perhaps the most significant is to compare two Champions League ties. A year ago, the Chivas striker was a guest in a private box, unknown to the majority at Old Trafford as Bayern Munich eliminated United from Europe.

Fast forward to 2011 and Hernandez himself was responsible for removing Marseille from the competition on Tuesday, a clinical brace sealing a place in the quarter-finals.



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Go back to 2010 and United were concluding a signing that was kept so secret that most of Hernandez's own family were unaware of it. Jim Lawlor, the United chief scout, tracked the young Mexican and, realising that a fine World Cup could inflate his value, a £7 million (Dh41m) deal was swiftly struck.

While Hernandez and his father and namesake, Javier, were at Old Trafford, his grandfather had been misled.

"They tricked us," Tomas Balcazar said. "They told us they were on holiday in Atlanta. The next day the phone rang and they said 'turn on the television, you'll see something very important'. The first thing we saw was the lad's mug. Then we saw the badge of Manchester United. We just couldn't believe it."

It is unbelievable in various ways. In 2009, after two years without a senior goal, according to his father: "He doubted he was capable of playing in the [Mexican] First Division." In 2011, he has proved more than capable of scoring in the English Premier League.

A tally of 10 goals is all the more remarkable because they have come from just 14 shots on target. In all competitions, his record reads: 17 starts, 16 goals.

Hernandez averages better than a goal every other game for his country, too, scoring against France and Argentina in the 2010 World Cup.

Timed as the quickest player in South Africa, running at 19.98mph (32.15kph), he has nonetheless startled his manager with the speed of his impact.

"We are surprised," said Sir Alex Ferguson. "When we brought him, we thought it would take some time to adjust and his main role was as a substitute."

In that role, he earned comparisons with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, another whose reading of the game and predatory instinct enabled him to come off the bench and score crucial goals.

"He's a great mover off the ball," said the Norwegian, until recently United's reserve team coach. "His physique is very sharp, he's clever with his runs and his finishing is very good." Teammates concur. "There are some players who are natural finishers," said Ryan Giggs. "They're ice cool and I've seen that in Javier already."

A natural scorer is a natural born footballer. "He was weaned on football since being in his cot," said Balcazar. A scorer for Mexico in the 1954 World Cup, he is one of three generations to represent his country. Javier Hernandez senior was in the squad for the 1986 World Cup and nicknamed "The Pea", which is why United's No 14 is "The Little Pea" or, as his shirt reads, "Chicharito". "All my family and those I know in Mexico call me by that name," said the 22 year old.

United were an influence on an emerging player. His heroes, he said, were: "Mexican players like Luis Garcia and [Hugo] Sanchez of course. A lot of European players too, like Ronaldo, the Brazilian one, but also players here like Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and Ruud van Nistelrooy. All those strikers I liked to watch."

It is notable how many of Hernandez's shots are not merely on target, but directed at the corner of the net where a goalkeeper finds it hardest to save them.

It is significant, too, that his pace drags defenders deeper and opens up space for Rooney, allowing the Englishman to play as a classic No 10. The duo have combined to devastating effect against both Arsenal and Marseille, forming a partnership that bodes badly for Berbatov.

"He's threatening in space behind defenders and that's the worst thing for defenders to play against - players who know when to run, how to time their run and always think about scoring goals," Solskjaer added.

Defenders have encountered an energetic, enthusiastic nemesis. United, who have been criticised for not spending sizeable fees since Berbatov was bought for £30m in 2008, have found a bargain. And Ferguson has his new Solskjaer.



For reports from last night's Champions League ties, log on to thenational.ae/sport