Despite the relentless, seemingly endless comparisons and the long shadows cast by his male predecessors, it was in the famous red and white stripes of Chivas Guadalajara that Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez announced himself to the world.
“Oh, so many memories,” he tells bundesliga.com when asked if there is one moment in particular which stands out from the four years he played professionally for his boyhood club. “I’ve got so many: I came through the ranks of the club after all; from the fourth team to the reserves to the first team and then I made my debut in the first division.”
‘In the team all the time’
It was 1997 when the nine-year-old Hernandez joined Chivas - one of Mexico’s grandest clubs and perhaps unsurprising given his heritage - although it wasn’t until nine years later in 2006 that he turned professional.
“He doubted himself; he doubted that he was capable of playing in the first division,” his father told The New York Times in 2010 of his son’s early professional years. “As a young player he was impatient. We talked to him about being persistent and in time everything would come."
Perhaps, however, patience was harder for Hernandez Jr., given the extra weight of expectation and pressure on his shoulders as the grandson of the Campeonísimo.
Chicharito enjoyed an impressive debut regardless, replacing Omar Bravo in the 82nd minute of a home game against Necaxa in September 2006 and scoring his first professional goal five minutes later to seal a 4-0 win. It proved a false dawn, however, and it took until 2008 for his major breakthrough to arrive.
“I’ve certainly got some memories from my debut and some from when we were crowned champions [Hernandez made five appearances, all from the bench, as Chivas won the Apertura in 2006 - the club’s last league title],” said Chicharito. “But I’ve also got other memories from when I was in the team all the time.”
The then 20-year-old announced himself properly on the domestic stage with four league goals in 22 appearances in the 2008/09 campaign. A haul of 21 goals in just 28 games the following season – including a record-breaking eight in the first five games of the Bicentenario 2010 - earned Hernandez a place in the Mexico squad for the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa. Two goals at the tournament and a move to Manchester United FC that same summer meant that global superstar status followed swiftly.
Indeed, Hernandez had developed so much in two impressive seasons competing in the school of hard knocks that is the Primera Division, or Liga MX, Mexico’s top flight, that there was even talk of dropping the diminutive ‘ito’ in his nickname. While Chicharito remained the moniker, Hernandez had undeniably stepped out of his father and grandfather’s long shadows and more than proved his worth at the top level.
‘Learned a lot’
“Of course, another memory is when I left for Europe. There’s no one specific moment that stands out [from the time spent at Chivas] and, like I said, I also learned a lot from the more difficult moments,” he recalls.
More difficult moments would follow in due course as, despite hitting double figures in each of his first three seasons at Old Trafford, along with winning the Premier League title in 2010/11 and 2012/13, the Mexican found his playing opportunities limited after 2013. A loan to Real Madrid CF followed last term, but even in spite of scoring seven league goals, Hernandez was again playing second fiddle more often than not.
‘Made me feel wanted’
“I haven’t necessarily had the opportunities to show what I can do in the last two or three years,” he says candidly. “Leverkusen, though, made me feel wanted right from the start.”
“They showed interest in me as soon as my loan at Real Madrid came to an end,” says Hernandez of his transfer to Die Werkself. “That was what really attracted me at first. They were chasing me from the very first day and, without that interest, I might not be here. That desire to sign me and to make me a part of the club really attracted me.”
Chicharito was speaking to bundesliga.com's Daniel Thacker
Look out for Part 3 of Bundesliga.com’s exclusive chat with ‘Chicharito’ and check out our mini-site dedicated to the Leverkusen star.