Often cast as a narrow and limited footballer, Javier Hernandez’s uncanny ability to score goals is reminiscent of the improbably effective Pippo Inzaghi; a poacher somewhat fondly remembered for being able to do little else but find the back of the net.
With Manchester United’s troubled defence leaking early goals this year, the Mexican has reasserted himself as the team’s modern day super sub, delivering the goods on demand when called upon. A few more pots and titles for Chicharito at Old Trafford and he could one day challenge Ole Gunnar Solksjaer as the club’s most legendary last minute hero.
Compared to his fellow strikers however, Hernandez does look technically deficient. His link up play is relatively poor in comparison to Rooney, Van Persie and Welbeck, who are all about to create, pass and contribute to the approach play with clever touches and feints. Last year the gleeful striker appeared to have become all too self-aware of his short comings, especially as he vied for game time with the technically immaculate Dimitar Berbatov. As he lost the grinning enthusiasm of his breakthrough first year, Chich struggled through a difficult second season with his knack for scoring goals blunted by dwindling appearances and over-thinking the basics of his game.
Now back to his best, Hernandez is again finishing by instinct – vital for a player who initially made his name in England for scoring with almost every body part besides his foot. After scoring earlier this week against Braga in the Champions Leauge from a sat down position in front of goal, Zonal Marking‘s Michael Cox tweeted: “Long-range strike by Hernandez‘s standards”.
Today against Aston Villa, his first touch often looked clumsy and unsure, while his finishing – although effective – often appears messy and improvised. As with Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master and the Zui Quan school of Kung Fu however, these awkward and uncoordinated jerky efforts at ball control could well be the secret strength behind Chicharito’s potency rather than a weakness.
In Zui Quan, or Drunken Boxing, the idea is to distract and surprise your opponent by appearing to be off-balance and impaired when the fighter is anything but. Similarly, Hernandez’s poor touch is unpredictable, something which the quick reacting Mexican uses to his advantage. He may be just as much a passenger in the weird and wonderful array of directions the ball spins into as his marker, but more often than not he appears to have an educated guess as to where the ball may end up – perhaps through practice and his experience of making something out of his misshapen, stray touches.
Look again at his first goal against Aston Villa. The ball bobbles upon his toes as he tries to bring it down and control it, causing him to instead almost trip over his first touch as the ball dances away from him, leaving his defender utterly perplexed. Somehow he manages to contrive an unexpected nutmegging of Brad Guzan out of the untidy mayhem to score.
Not only would cleaning up Hernandez’s technique take out some of the charm from his game, it might also impair his play. After all, necessity is the mother of invention, and what better way to hone and sharpen your ability and awareness to produce from nothing when you’re constantly trying to improvise with chaos?
With Robin Van Persie, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney, and Will Keane pushing up from the reserves, United hardly need another technician. As he’s showing with his game saving performances this year, sometimes a crude and effective jerry-rigger is all that’s needed to bodge a match in the right direction.