Five weeks ago this article would’ve been absurd.
A debate about Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s future was as unnecessary as Chicharito was to Real Madrid. Of course the Mexican forward would leave.
Not that los Blancos would’ve wanted him anyway.
Joining the Spanish giant looked like a giant mistake from a playing perspective. The striker was surplus at Manchester United and looked like surplus at Real Madrid. From the time he joined the club in the summer to the start of April, Chicharito had scored three league goals. Two of those came in the same match.
Then French forward Karim Benzema injured a knee in the first leg of Real Madrid’s Champions League quarterfinal against Atletico Madrid, and the Little Pea got his chance.
He took it.
Chicharito scored against Eibar, assisted Ronaldo in the following game against Malaga, and then scored the most important goal in his club career when he finished off a pass from Ronaldo for the only goal in the second leg of the Champions League series with Atleti.
That goal put Real Madrid into the Champions League semifinals and tears in the forward’s eyes. Though some analysts, including Thierry Henry, criticized him for showing so much emotion, it was easy to understand why he did. I mean, besides him being a crybaby, obviously.
It’s not entirely Hernandez’s choice if he were to stay or go, but there’s no doubt he can influence his future. (His loan is over and he’s technically on his way back to Manchester United.) With Madrid trophy-less and the season over, the club and the player must make a choice.
Whatever decision comes down, hundreds of thousands of fans in the U.S. will be eagerly awaiting the verdict. At age 26, he is part of the new wave of Mexicans finding success. Many of the country’s most ardent fans — and the ones starting to generate disposable income to spend on tickets, jerseys and TV packages — grew up watching Chich represent Chivas, then move to Manchester United.
Sure, Chicharito scores goals, but he also sells a lot of jerseys or razors. His Twitter following is larger than Manchester United’s and, in my favorite bit of Chichadios (Chicharito is a god) trivia, there are Facebook accounts with 1.4 million and 3.3 million likes despite the fact his verified Twitter bio says in all caps that he doesn’t have a Facebook page.
A great number of those jerseys sold, websites clicked, and socials mediaed are from fans in the United States, where he is one of the most popular soccer players. That’s why one MLS expansion team, Orlando City, has expressed interest in signing him and the L.A. Times suggested future teams bring him in.
Chich to MLS is still years from happening barring a shocking reversal from the player and his advisers, but economics mean clubs will always be interested. For instance, Madrid brought Mexico’s most popular player in on loan the same week team president Florentino Pérez’s company agreed to a large contract with state-owned oil company Pemex. The deal likely wasn’t part of the decision to bring the player aboard, but it may have helped grease the wheels.
Such is the allure of Chicharito. But no matter how cynical you are about the game, bringing in money and fans still isn’t the only factor deciding whether Hernandez will be back at Real Madrid.
Frankly, though Chicharito is in the upper echelon of the world’s soccer players, he’s not at the level necessary to supplant Ronaldo (who is?) or a healthy Benzema (few are). He would better serve the Mexico national team and become a better player himself were he finally to join a club that relied on him to score goals regularly.
His late success with Real Madrid shows he has the talent. Another home would help him prove it.