There were never really any career choices beyond that of a footballer for Bayer 04 Leverkusen's Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez. With his father and grandfather having played professionally, the Mexican fell in love with the sport almost from the day he was born in Guadalajara in June 1988.
“Football was completely my life when I was younger,” Hernandez told bundesliga.com in an exclusive interview. “In fact, it still is. Ever since I was born I knew I was going to be a footballer: I was set on it. I loved going to the stadium to watch my dad and I was lucky enough that – because he played – I could experience the atmosphere first-hand on a regular basis.”
“Almost all of my memories from a young age involve football in the stadium, either watching my dad play or just being there with my family,” he continued. “Obviously, I’d wear my dad’s shirt when I was a kid, too. Football, and everything about it, has always dominated my life.”
Like son, like father. Javier Hernandez Gutierrez enjoyed a long and distinguished career between 1981 and 1999, representing Estudiantes Tecos, Puebla and Monarcas Morelia with distinction, as well as earning 28 caps and scoring four goals for the Mexico national team - including helping his country to the quarter-finals of the 1986 FIFA World Cup on home turf. An attacking midfielder, Gutierrez was known commonly as ‘Chicharo’, or ‘Pea’, for his distinctive green eyes as a child.
It stuck, and in a land where nicknames are common currency, his son was quickly informally baptised ‘Chicharito’, or ‘Little Pea’. Yet, where Gutierrez’s legacy is evident in the name nowadays used affectionately by football fans worldwide, the influence of Chicharito’s maternal grandfather was subtler, a story lesser known.
The ultimate champion
“My grandfather played as big a role as my father in my early career,” explains Hernandez. “He played for Chivas Guadalajara and was known as the Campeonísimo [ultimate champion], winning several titles and going on to become an assistant coach at the club. He won a lot of titles then as well, and was an important part of Chivas, the club where I started my career.”
Campeonísimo is no overstatement: Tomas Balcazar Gonzalez could perhaps be regarded as one of Mexico’s finest-ever players, winning a remarkable eight league titles as a forward with Chivas in ten years between 1948 and 1958.
While records of his date of birth are sketchy, Balcazar was said to have been 22 when he scored in Mexico’s 3-2 defeat to France at the World Cup in Switzerland 1954. By a quirk of fate, his grandson was the same age when he found the net in a 2-0 victory over the same opposition at South Africa 2010. Yet again in Hernandez’s career, the ancestral link proves inescapable, although when it comes to on-field performance, it is an influence he embraces.
“Still today my biggest critics are my father and my grandfather,” the Leverkusen forward says, a twinkle in his eye. “They always have been, and they never let me feel like I had a good game, however well I have played. You could always push to be better. My grandfather always told me that the perfect game doesn't exist and that you can always do better, however you’re playing.”
'I've never liked comparisons'
It is not just his father and grandfather who played a key role in the young Hernandez’s development, however. “People often try and credit only those two for where I am now because they were professional sportsmen as well,” he explained. “The female side of my family was just as influential: my aunts, my grandmother, my sister, my mum. So many people in my family have helped me to get where I am today and they’ve been fundamental pillars from an early age.”
The influence of his male forebears was, though, inescapable when Hernandez began his professional career with Chivas, one of football-mad Mexico’s biggest and most successful clubs. “At times it was very difficult and people would compare me a lot to my father or my grandfather,” says Hernandez of his years spent in Guadalajara, Mexico’s third biggest city, between 2006 and 2010.
“They would always say ‘He’s the son of Chicharo’ or ‘He’s the grandson of Tomas Balcazar’. People were forever comparing me. It was difficult, but it made me a much stronger person and you learn a lot from that sort of thing. I’ve never liked comparisons either in life or in football: we’re all different and have good and bad traits.”
Chicharito was speaking to bundesliga.com's Daniel Thacker
Look out for Parts 2 and 3 of Bundesliga.com’s exclusive chat with ‘Chicharito’ and check out our mini-site dedicated to the Leverkusen star.