Magician from Mexico

Magician from Mexico

Football Personality

Red hot:  Javier Hernandez, who has signed a new five-year deal with Manchester United, is one of the highest paid players in the world.

A week in the life of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez defines the modern soccer superstar. Last Tuesday, the Mexican was on his home soil, playing for his country against Brazil in the Torreon stadium, where a game was halted in late August after guards at a checkpoint outside the stadium exchanged fire with armed men.

Hernandez flew back to Manchester after the friendly and signed a new five-year contract with United that makes him one of the world’s highest-paid players, and on Saturday he came off the bench to score the equalising goal at Liverpool that rescued his club’s unbeaten record this season.

And, with no rest for the gifted, his next destination will be Bucharest, where Manchester United takes on the Romanian champion, Otelul Galati, in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

All in one week.

Chicharito travels first class and has a first-class attitude to work and play. He is always on the move, and movement is his secret.

The Mexican was one of a host of key players left out of the starting lineups by top European clubs over the weekend because of their travel schedules and workloads. But, with United a goal down and time running out at Anfield Stadium, manager Alex Ferguson threw the dice and threw on three substitutes – Wayne Rooney, Nani and Hernandez.

That is a hundred million dollars’ of talent right there in a game-saving switch.

Hernandez, though, was the one that made the difference. His score came in a crowded goal mouth following a corner kick, less than five minutes after he took the field. Nani took the corner, Danny Welbeck changed the flight of the ball with a glancing flick, and Hernandez swooped.

Hernandez is an articulate young fellow, with an engaging awareness of what makes him tick. But the anticipation, the movement, the imagination to strike while all around him see no opportunity, is all in the mind.

Gerd Mueller, the most instinctive of all goal scorers, who in the 1960s and '70s, struck 572 goals in 669 matches, put it down to a mysterious voice inside him, saying “Gerd, go this way” or “Gerd, go that way.”

Not only did Hernandez go this way and that, he was being forcibly constrained at the time by a defender, Martin Skrtel, who dwarfs him physically. “He’s being manhandled, strangled by Skrtel,” said Ferguson, “and he gets himself free to score. Fantastic!” It was more than physical. Hernandez had lined up beyond the far post for the corner kick. He darted a few paces toward the center of the goal, slipped back a yard or so, freed himself from Skrtel’s embrace, and then appeared to stop and wait.

In microseconds, his mind had decided where and when the deflected ball would reach him. And with almost nonchalance, he popped the ball into the net. Simple, sensational, and because he does it so often, priceless.

United needed that goal because Steven Gerrard, playing his first full game since he required groin surgery seven months ago, had put Liverpool ahead. Gerrard, too, has an uncanny habit of scoring when it most matters. The game, viewed on television all over the world, was aptly described by Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish as “sterile” for the first hour.

The sides canceled each other out with caution. Gerrard broke that deadlock with a free kick that went straight through a gap in United’s defensive wall. The culprit, the man who left the wall, was Ryan Giggs, the most experienced player in the Premier League.

The final score, 1-1, was just. But, after United’s struggle for a point at Anfield, Manchester City thrashed Aston Villa, 4-1. The pick of the goals was right out of the Hernandez class of improvisation and timing and instinct. Mario Balotelli scored it. With his back to goal, in a crowded goal mouth, the Italian reacted to a corner kick bouncing down off the chest of his teammate, Micah Richards.

Quicker than you could speak his name, Balotelli launched himself into the air and, with his right foot, hooked the ball over his head into the net. “Super, Super Mario!” his supporters shouted.

Super Mario or superb Chicharito could be in direct opposition this coming Sunday. They meet at Old Trafford when City, now on top of the league, visits second-placed United. No air miles needed, just the biggest rivalry in the shortest distance.

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