Can you remember a time when our Latino air filled bladder kickers took the league siege and spared no mercies in front of goal? We had such high hopes for Pablo Barrera who failed to shine whilst Guillermo Franco didn’t really fill our cups to the brim either.
In the summer we thought we had made the coup of the century by signing our very own Javier Hernandez…yes Mr Chicharito himself. The product of a Guadalajara youth system that saw him rise through the ranks until Manchester United came calling, then onto Real Madrid & Bayer Leverkusen. The record breaking Mexican international would surely be the type of top quality striker that we had been searching for some time…he had the right credentials, had premier league experience and can converse like a native to avoid any communication hurdles…but his star status has yet to gleam since his arrival, but that could be about to change.
Many would assume that he has not performed to his potential and whilst his 6 goal tally thus far is not indicative of a prolific target man, we are starting to see the seeds of change both in his performances and his goal scoring opportunities.
His presence in the box has been muted by the lack of quality service which he thrives on. In his career he has scored many goals from increased activity in the opponents penalty area but we have failed to get anywhere near that level and this has been as frustrating for him as it has for us.
One could easily be fooled into believing that he is not so much General Lopez de Santa Anna of the Mexican army laying siege upon the Alamo Mission, rather more like ‘Tuco’ hanging from the gallows in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly…just waiting for the rope to be shot by Clint Eastwood’s Blondie character.
He wasn’t really successful under Bilic and even on his first appearance I could see a look of bewilderment on his face as he looked around and wondered where was all the quality that he had been used to his whole career. I wondered if he was in a state of shock for the first few games and if his doubts for his fellow teammates added to the abject displays we saw…did it even contribute to a lack of togetherness within the squad. It was hardly surprising and yet very notable that when he scored his first goal, few players came to congratulate him…possibly being the foil that led to reduced appearances and an eagerness to seek pastures new in the transfer window.
When Moyes took over, many of us thought that would be the end of Hernandez’s career at West Ham, but to his credit he has knuckled down too and continued to work behind the scenes to force his way back into the starting line up. Possibly fortuitous that an opening has been forged due to injuries to other key players, he has however began to show glimpses of form that may make the owners feel vindicated in opening their wallets last summer.
Much of the fanbase have questioned his suitability and commitment to the cause in recent games, however he has been forced to play in isolated forward positions with little quality service. He has had to hold the line in the cup games and play alongside second teamers, along with the young and a misfiring supporting cast, so it’s no surprise that he has had such little success.
In recent games he has played a lot with his back to goal and dropping deep to receive the ball with little support play, hence making it very difficult for him to link in with other players. His frustrations were noted just as his ponderance for limited motion and in stark contrast to Arnautovic who would be seen to chase down any opportunity.
Perhaps his early frustrations manifested themselves into lethargy and apathy to chase down a cause, to fight a battle he feared was already lost and to fuse together with a slumping team. He may have been lost in his transition period and within the change of management. He may have resented being asked to play in a role that clearly was not his and he may have questioned the tactical formations that would see him as isolated as an ocean atoll and seemingly set adrift.
In training he poses a conundrum for the selection committee…does he have the stomach for the battle? Does he have the strength to fend off his defensive counterparts and can he ever live up to the hype of his introduction? That hype saw many fans rush out to buy Mexican adorned ornaments, clothing & sombreros. Fans that were ready to introduce the Mexican wave to a London Stadium crowd, practice their Spanish one liners…even I was ready to share my penned ‘Chicharito Chant’.
“Aye Yi Yi Yi
He’s a fox in the box
Wears claret blue socks
Our new Mexican Hero”
“Aye Yi Yi Yi….”
I was ready to share…but never found the motivation to do so. “Thank heavens for that!” I hear you cry.
For all my disappointment and for all the underwhelming performances I witnessed, I still could not buy into the popular opinion that he wasn’t good enough to play for us. In fact I would gladly argue the point that he has not been entirely at fault, however he could have shown more motivation during the low periods.
I was pleased that he was given a chance to show his worth in the cup games, but equally disappointed for the fans and indeed himself that he could not prove his worth. However I also started to see some sprouting of a revival, yet hardly any green shoots to get excited about.
At the Bournemouth game at the London Stadium we still lacked a clinical edge to our forward play and it was evident that Lanzini & Arnautovic were not linking up as well as they had done so in their previous match. Later it transpired that Arnautovic was carrying an injury, but when Lanzini was taken off with a hamstring injury…I saw an opportunity for Hernandez, a chance to redeem himself and to restore our long departed faith in him. He did not disappoint! He showed industry and got us an equalising goal…the fox in the box has emerged from his set, flaunted his bushy tail and has recovered from his wounds that he no longer needed to lick.
Of course, the old stalwart dissenters returned with the cup exit performances but he returned to league action against Chrystal Palace, almost rejuvenated and ready for the fight. There were moments when his link up play was successful and he seemed to click with an advancing and supportive Mario too. He had a couple of chances on goal and got us the deserved penalty too, so all in all a much improved performance albeit absent of making the score sheet.
Hernandez is the kind of player that thrives on service and bringing the play into the opponents last third. The rest of the team need to play higher up the pitch to support his movement, but he also needs to stop dropping so deep and return to the front line, to play on the half turn on the last defender. This is where he is most dangerous, this is where he is most effective and this is where he will get the goals.
The greater the ball lands in the opponents penalty box, the greater the chance that Chicharito will have opportunities to score…just as he did against Brighton with a fine goal and a growing connection with Joao Mario may make for future success that we have longed for.
Remember the Alamo? I think it’s starting to come back to me now…Yes!