Opinion: "Chicharito" Needs to Start for ManU
Javier Hernández, who has done most of his scoring for Manchester United primarily as a second-half substitute, got a rare opportunity this week: He started a game for the English Premier League leaders.
And the man known as "Chicharito" did not let the opportunity go by. He connected for a sublime back-heel goal and setting up the game-winner in a 2-1 victory Tuesday over Stoke City.
Whether Hernández will be in the starting lineup is a probably a long shot. Like it or not, "Chicharito" has become a victim of his own success.
On the one hand, the Mexican international striker has demonstrated quite quickly his talents and scoring ability. For all his prowess, though, his playing time has been limited.
"Chicharito" has become a super-sub thanks to his late-match heroics, rescuing ManU several times this season. His most recent accomplishment came Saturday when he converted a header – one of his specialties – in the 75th minute en route to a 2-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion, the Reds' second away win this season.
In the dozen times he has come off the bench for United, Hernández has found the back of the net on five occasions, an extraordinary strike rate for someone who hasn't found himself on the field for many minutes.
So, Hernández has solidified a role for himself, a vital one for United's success in England and Europe, and a dilemma as well.
Just how does the 22-year-old break out of this role, especially when Rooney and Ditimar Berbatov are standing in his way?
Hernández certainly has shown time and again that he deserves a chance to become a regular with his skill, flair and scoring ability.
However, it probably will take an injury or a series of poor performances by the regulars for Hernández to get his big break.
In some respects, manager Sir Alex Ferguson has become set in his ways due to United's success and it would not be surprising if he uses Hernández as a super-sub for the good of the team but to the detriment of Chicharito's career.
After Saturday's performance, Ferguson praised Hernández, comparing him to Norwegian great Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who made a living coming off the bench to save United with late goals.
Solskjaer connected for 28 goals as a sub in 11 ManU seasons.
“It’s great to hear and it’s good motivation for me, but I know I need to work a lot to be like him,” Hernández told MUTV.
To Hernández's credit, he has had the proper attitude and said all the right things. When asked about Berbatov and Rooney, he recently told reporters, "I’m here to learn from people like him and Wayne.
"My job is to make sure I’m ready and prepared when the manager decides to bring me in," he added. "I’m just as happy if it’s going to be five minutes at the end of a game or a full game."
He’s probably stuck this role for the rest of the season, but don’t be surprised if other clubs – Real Madrid recently was rumored as a potential suitor – come calling.
Hernández is more than just a goal-scorer. He is an entertainer as well. Talent is a horrible thing to waste. Having someone who turns loses into draws and ties into wins with 11th-hour heroics might be the perfect tonic for United, but may not be the best medicine for Hernández.
In the prime of his career, Hernández could miss out on reaching his true potential if he languishes on the bench too long.
And the world's soccer fans will miss out on a true star.
"Chicharito" needs to start – as soon as possible.
Michael Lewis, who has covered international soccer for three decades, can be reached at Soccerwriter516@aol.com.