Javier (Chicharito) Hernandez, pictured playing for the LA Galaxy this season, endured a difficult time under manager David Moyes on Manchester United in 2013. (Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)
This story was written in October 2013, when Michael Lewis was editor of BigAppleSoccer.com
By Michael Lewis
The joke goes something like this:
Who was the only person who could stop Michael Jordan from scoring?
Smith, of course, was the University of North Carolina basketball coach who somehow kept a leash on the fabulous Jordan when he performed for the Tar Heels. It wasn’t until Air Jordan turned pro and dominated the NBA for the Chicago Bulls that he forged a reputation as one of the all-time basketball greats.
Well, a similar situation has occurred in another sport, except it is happening outside of the United States – in England.
These days, New Manchester United manager David Moyes is doing a modern version of the joke — as he is stopping Mexican international striker Javier Hernandez — aka Chicharito (to me, you call him Chicharito when he scores, not when he sits on the bench or struggles during matches, but that’s just me).
But it has been no joke to Hernandez or his supporters.
Regardless how Mexico fares against host Costa Rica in its Concacaf hexagonal finale in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday night, even f Mexico books a berth in Brazil for next year, Hernandez must play for his club – whether it is Manchester United, Atletico Madrid or another top-flight European side.
Any player worth his or her salt must play — especially one of international caliber – must play on a regular basis.
And that goes double for strikers who need to play regularly to get into a rhythm, especially when he is 25-years-old – prime time for strikers.
That’s how players score goals.
That’s how strikers gain confidence.
Hernandez is wasting away sitting on the ManU bench and his confidence has been suffering.
His lack of confidence has been transferred to the international arena, where Chicharito hasn’t been close to playing like Chicharito, particularly during those World Cup qualifiers.
In El Tri’s 2-1 qualifying home win over Panama on Friday, Hernandez almost turned into the goat, missing a penalty kick in the 58th minute. Fortunately for the hosts, Raul Jimenez scored a goal of a lifetime off a bicycle kick in the 85th minute to save the Mexicans’ skins at Azteca Stadium.
When Hernandez is not playing confidently, he is not Chicharito.
And if he doesn’t play, a change in scenery would be the best tonic unless Moyes gives him more playing time.
Listen, I get it. Hernandez has got some pretty impressive goal-scorers with some pretty damn good reputations either ahead of him or battling for the two striking positions in the guise of Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck. Translated: Hernandez has started only two of ManU’s 11 games and has found the back of the net but once.
Not exactly the best way to continue as Mexico’s top striker and perhaps prepare for Brazil 2014.
During an interview with The Mirror last week, Hernandez hinted just a bit at a transfer.
“I strive for that [to start more games],” he told the English newspaper. “I am working towards that – earning a spot as a starter. I know that my performance on the pitch will allow me to achieve that goal someday either here [in Manchester] or elsewhere for any other club.”
But his first priority is performing for United.
“I am going on four years here and really, like I have always said, I am happy to be able to play for one of the best clubs in the world, doing my best every single day to earn more minutes on the pitch,” he told The Mirror.
“I just need to be given more opportunities to showcase what I can do, because all of us want to be able to contribute our part so this team can win championships.”
While transferring, selling or loaning Hernandez to another English Premier League team is out of the question, moving to another league certainly isn’t. Spain would be a perfect league in which Hernandez could thrive and could turn back into the Chicharito we all know and love.
During the summer, Hernandez was a target for Atletico Madrid in La Liga, which could have been a perfect fit for the Mexican scoring star, especially with the team looking for a replacement for Colombian scoring machine Radamel Falcao, now with Monaco (France).
If Mexico wants to return to being the CONCACAF power it wants and needs to be, Hernandez needs to be Chicharito. That means he needs to play somewhere — for a quality club in a quality league.
It’s a simple as that and that’s no joke.