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At the start of his third season as a United player, Javier Hernandez has found himself slip down the pecking order after the arrival of Robin van Persie. He has to keep his eyes on what’s behind him too – Macheda’s yet to go out on loan and super-talented Angelo Henriquez has joined from La U in Chile. He can though take some comfort from the fact that the club have faith in him – a new contract signed last October takes him through until 2016 at least; and, he can draw inspiration from another club legend.
Hernandez joined United two years ago – at 22 he was still somewhat an unknown quantity despite YouTube clips and impressive World Cup 2010 performances. Almost instantly, fans took to him – a bubbly but humble character who could only smile and seemed to be completely overjoyed at being at his new club. United fans have always taken to new players who seem to ‘get’ what it’s all about and Javier made all the right first impressions.
His first season went like a dream – 45 appearances, 20 goals, a 19th title, and a Champions League final. Maybe it was the fact he was an unknown quantity to defences, but Hernandez had made his mark. United had a pacey player who plays on the shoulder of the last man; who was surprisingly capable in the air for such a little guy; and, whose movement in the box was akin to a young Michael Owen – instinctive and deadly.
As with many signings, replicating the success of season one in season two seemed unlikely. Everything started on the wrong foot with a couple of injuries and then more injuries mid-season. United had also brought in Danny Welbeck, the young kid from Longsight had grown up, filled out and started to become a gem. Hernandez though would go on and start more league games than he did in his first year and still score important goals, most notably away from home.
This summer, the forward line has been bolstered further and speculation about Hernandez’s future and happiness is rife. To me, it all seems a bit reactionary and Hernandez should look no further than a former striking legend of the club for inspiration.
Ole Solskjaer and Javier Hernandez share many similarities. Both joined as relative unknowns and went on to have an immediate impact. Javier not only joined United at a younger age than Ole but has outscored Ole’s first two seasons – Hernandez has 32 goals in 81 United appearances and at the same time in his career at United, Ole had 28 goals in 76 games.
Many forget that Ole’s second season hardly went to plan. Sheringham’s arrival saw him start only 19 games all season and he never hit double figures for goals that year. His third and most famous year was different. The 1998/99 season will forever be remembered for heroics in Barcelona, at Villa Park and various other grounds, but Ole would start the fewest number of games in a season for United until injuries struck him down. It also happened to be his second highest scoring and that is when the super-sub association really came about.
Javier needs only to look at what Ole did and achieved to realise he has a big part to play. The fact he may not be first choice shouldn’t matter – if he can hone his best asset, his finishing, and become as consistent as Ole could, he’ll have a big part to play. He needs to be sharp enough to come off the bench and get up to pace very quickly to have the same impact Ole could. Javier’s already shown that away from home he can be so important. By playing on the last man he stretches United’s game naturally higher up the pitch and against tiring legs, as a sub he can have a huge impact.
Some injury-luck might be needed as well as general improvement and consistency. United though have always relied on selfless players who are happy to be part of a squad. Javier’s already matched and bettered Ole’s stats from his early years and now needs to ensure that like Ole did in his third season, he takes every chance that comes his way this year; whether it’s from the bench or from the start of games. There is a naive assumption today that if a player doesn’t start he always wants to leave or isn’t good enough. United’s most famous super-sub proved that with perseverance and patience, riches come. Javier has the chance to be this United side’s Ole, not in style as such but attitude and contribution.