Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez of Bayer 04 Leverkusen enjoys godlike status in his home country at a level rarely seen for any athlete.
On the back of a hugely successful debut season in Germany, Mexico fans are hopeful that one of the Bundesliga's biggest stars will help deliver El Tri's first-ever Copa America title this summer.
Ten-year-old Asarel of Madeira, California offers a wide grin when asked to name his favorite player. Asarel’s family made the journey to Phoenix, Arizona to help boost their beloved El Tricolor through a feeling of home to which they’ve become accustomed whenever they play in the United States.
Elsewhere, a group of friends from Tijuana has been attending Mexico matches together for the last two years. While gathered for breakfast early on match day at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, venue for Mexico's opening game, a 3-1 win over Uruguay, they sparked into life at the mere mention of Bayer 04 Leverkusen's Hernandez by his catchy nickname.
"Chicharito is the best!" says group-appointed spokesperson Fernando Arce when asked which player is likely to play the biggest role in Mexico’s Copa America run. "He scored a lot of goals in Germany in a very competitive league."
A sea of green
Confidence in Mexico’s chances and love for Hernandez were both in abundant supply at a pre-match Futbol Fiesta in the Westgate Entertainment District, a collection of restaurants and bars adjacent to the stadium. As can be seen from this exclusive video taken by bundesliga.com's reporter - and girlfriend of Chicarito - Lucia Villalon Puras - the Mexico jerseys on show gave the scene a distinctly green hue, but amidst the sea of fervour for El Tri, signs of the Bundesliga’s popularity could also be found.
Local resident Eduardo Vizcarra was confident enough in his love for his country to stand out in his bright red FC Bayern München jersey. “I have my Mexico jersey at home, but this is just another team that I really like,” he says. “There are enough Mexico jerseys here already!” Vizcarro was the exception, however. The vast majority of fans proudly wore the Mexico badge on their chest and, more often than not, “Chicharito” or “Hernandez” emblazoned across their backs.
'Leverkusen gave Hernandez a chance'
Chicharito’s popularity demands that Bayer games are broadcast in Mexico, where fans are finding the Bundesliga a competitive alternative to popular Spanish La Liga. “Between the television and the internet, we can follow all the matches," says Felipe Almada. "I watched probably twenty of them [this season].”
To go with their Chicharito merchandise, most fans also had positive impressions of the fan favourite’s move to the Rhineland from Manchester United FC last summer. “Leverkusen gave him a chance, and he’s been great for them,” says Eduardo Salazar of Hermosillo, Mexico.