He’s the first Manchester United player to score 20 goals in his debut season since Ruud van Nistelrooy. He was a vital part of two title-winning teams and scored many important goals along the way. He especially had a knack for scoring against Chelsea. Since joining United in 2010, he’s scored in four of eight league matches against the Blues and has netted against them in the League Cup, F.A. Cup, Champions League and Community Shield. Some players are born to score goals, and this guy could do it with his feet, his head, the back of his head, and even with his face while falling down. Last season, while on loan, he made six fewer starts than Radamel Falcao yet still managed to score more than twice as many goals as the Colombian “hitman.”
And yet, prior to the start of Manchester United’s pre-season tour, it looked like Louis van Gaal had completely forgotten about Javier Hernandez. Indeed, as recently as April, van Gaal was dismissive of the forward who has scored 59 goals for United in 154 appearances (1 goal every 2.6 appearances- not bad when you consider 68 of those 154 appearances were as a substitute). “Chicharito’s future?” he asked rhetorically. “I have already sent him away once. When you score a goal, as he has just done for Real Madrid, are you suddenly different? I don’t think so.”
So it was somewhat surprising to see van Gaal extend Chicharito a lifeline, telling the press last week that the Mexican international could still have a future at Old Trafford. Maybe it’s just posturing; a way for United to have some leverage in transfer negotiations. After all, rumors are rife that Hernandez could be on his way to MLS, West Ham or Spurs. This month, we’ve seen van Gaal’s ruthless side already, as both Robin van Persie and Victor Valdes found out that there’s no room for sentimentality at Manchester United. If he was willing to ship out his former skipper and long-time goalkeeper, then selling Hernandez after telling him he had a future at the club would be a picnic for van Gaal.
Hopefully, van Gaal was being sincere and really does intend to give Hernandez a second chance. With van Persie’s and Falcao’s exits (and the possibility of a loan deal for James Wilson in the works) the club is woefully short at forward, a fact that was plainly obvious during United’s pre-season opener against Club America where Adnan Januzaj even saw time up front. With Wayne Rooney penciled in as the main striker, the team will need players that can come off the bench and fill in whenever the captain can’t play. Hernandez is a proven goal scorer who is used to the Premiership and has shown, in the past, that he can fill the role of “super sub.” This was the role that he played last year at Real Madrid, and he was able to make the most of it, scoring some big goals for the club including the goal that knocked Atletico Madrid out of the Champions League and put Real into the semifinals. Too bad he’s on record saying that he doesn’t like being a “super sub” very much.
On the one hand, Hernandez would seem out-of-place in van Gaal’s system. He doesn’t hold up play well, nor does he link up well with the midfield. Where he excels is making quick, deceptive runs past the back-four and finishing with accuracy. His speed and work-rate make him especially dangerous as a late-game sub that can go after a tired defense at will. Last season, United struggled to attack with pace and get behind opposing defenses. Hernandez would provide a valuable “Plan B” for van Gaal beyond “chuck it long to Fellaini and see what happens.”
Last season, van Gaal learned his lesson after seemingly writing off Fellaini as a United player and it paid dividends for the team. Hernandez could be this year’s reclamation project, but it seems like he’ll have accept the dreaded “super sub” role that he dislikes if he wishes to continue his United career, let alone play at another top European club. He could most likely walk into West Ham, Tottenham, or Orlando City and immediately become their starting striker. Of course, he would have to adjust his silverware expectations. I guess we’ll find out, soon enough, what’s more important to him.