Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez will continue his European journey as the standard-bearer of Mexican football at West Ham United next season.
Mexico fans will remember that El Tri internationals Pablo Barrera and Guillermo Franco failed to light up the London club, but Hernandez is coming in with the necessary tools to succeed.
West Ham get a striker in the prime of his career at 29 years old, and with ample experience behind him. Whereas Barrera and Franco came into the Premier League having never played in England, the bilingual Hernandez previously established himself at Manchester United and is fully aware of what he’s getting himself into, both on and off the pitch.
The fact that Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has lauded the Mexican striker on multiple occasions in recent months tells you how he is appreciated at his former club, and he’s likely to get a good reception at the season opener as West Ham travel to Old Trafford on Aug. 13.
Give Mexico’s all-time top scorer Hernandez chances and he’ll produce goals. His production rate — one goal every 142 minutes in the Premier League with Manchester United, one every 132 minutes in La Liga for Real Madrid, and one every 148 minutes for Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga — tells you about his goal-scoring consistency.
It’s easy to see Hernandez’s appeal for West Ham manager Slaven Bilic; not one West Ham player reached the 10-goal mark last season, and winger Michail Antonio was the top scorer with nine.
But Hernandez himself repeats consistently that his goals are of secondary importance compared to results. And he probably doesn’t get enough praise for the improvement in his all-round game since he left England.
When Hernandez signed for Manchester United, his movement and work rate were a sensation in the Premier League, but stints at Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen have turned him into a more rounded player. The Guadalajara native is never going to be as good as West Ham strike partner/rival Andy Carroll at holding the ball up, but Hernandez’s ability to keep things simple, win free kicks in the final third of the pitch, and contribute to the team is underrated.
Most importantly, Hernandez will be given the chance to make the starting spot his own at West Ham. Bilic tended to use a 3-4-2-1 formation last season, and given Carroll’s injury woes, Hernandez can be confident of lining up on Aug. 13 at his former club Manchester United as the focal point of the attack.
Some will say that going from Bayer Leverkusen to West Ham is a lateral move for Hernandez, but as strong as the Bundesliga is right now, the Premier League overshadows it significantly on a global level, and you can bet Mexico national team coach Juan Carlos Osorio will be delighted that once again there is a Mexican international in England.
The prospect of Hernandez joining MLS would’ve scared Osorio. Hernandez will have a season at the top level ahead of next summer’s World Cup. MLS wouldn’t have stopped Hernandez from receiving call-ups — as Giovani dos Santos’ situation highlights — but it would’ve sent a message to other Mexican players. By moving to West Ham, Hernandez is telling the rest of Mexican football that he still wants to compete at the top, rather than take a step down and join MLS.
“You are an enormous example to all of us,” wrote Mexico teammate Miguel Layun on Twitter. “You’ll do incredibly.”
The downside with West Ham is that, like Leverkusen, the Hammers won’t be involved in European competition next season and are unlikely to qualify for the Champions League in the near future, given the strength of the top six in England at present.
Still, West Ham had the third-highest average attendance in the Premier League — nearly 57,000 — last season, behind only Manchester United and Arsenal, and the club looks set to at least challenge in the top half in 2017-18 after an 11th-place finish last season.
While West Ham hasn’t been kind to Mexicans previously, Hernandez is set to change that and become a Hammers fan favorite.