“When he took his chance, it was like he was shelling peas. It was so natural to him.” That was the reaction of Sir Alex Ferguson, his face aglow in appreciation of Javier Hernandez’s winner against Valencia in the Estadio Mestalla, where the young Mexican monikered ‘Chicharito’ showed his predatory instincts by taking Kiko Macheda’s pass with a velvet first touch, before firing a clinical, low shot inside the post.
A noteworthy front man during his own playing days, Sir Alex recognises a player geared for goals. And his claim that the Reds have signed a natural finisher holds water. The third generation of his family to represent Mexico at a World Cup, Chicharito is clearly a thoroughbred goal-getter.
Yet along the way, including in the early days of his OT career, Hernandez has had to be patient. Just 18 months ago, at the age of 20, he found himself out on the fringes of the Chivas first team and experiencing enough self doubt to genuinely consider quitting football and becoming a full-time student. After more than two years without a goal for his boyhood club, despite a regime of hard training and clean living, he was stuck on the bench. For the first time, he was on the verge of being derailed from a future that had always looked so certain.
“He was weaned on football since being in his cot,” says his grandfather, Tomas Balcazar, a Mexican football legend and a goalscorer for El Tri at the 1954 World Cup – and whose son-in-law, Chicharito’s father Javier Hernandez Gutierrez, was part of Mexico’s squad at World Cup ’86. “We used to go to our plot of land near the airport and we played little games of football,” recalls Balcazar. “Chicharito used to play with us older folks and he used to slide-tackle us and take the ball. It was obvious he liked the game. He always had a serious inclination to be playing football.”
Chicharito was enlisted in Chivas’ youth system aged seven, rising through their ranks in a spell that included a stint as a matchday ball-boy for the first team. Professor Marco Fabian, the striker’s former youth coach, says his talents were soon recognised. “He was a hardworking boy with a lot of the qualities you see today: his explosive speed, his love of hitting the back of net, and his goal-poaching ability. He was a very hard-working player who always gave 100 per cent in training.
“He always demanded a lot from the other players. He was a winner. Even a draw would upset him. After one defeat, when he was 16 or 17, Javier spoke in front of the team and said he wasn’t going to accept losing. He said that despite his