Javier “Chicharito” Hernández has likely rarely been happier to join up with the Mexico national team. The striker has seen just 75 minutes of action this year for Real Madrid as his first-team opportunities have become increasingly limited, but has now joined up with his country for friendlies against Ecuador and Paraguay in the United States.
The past few days will surely have been as hard as any for Hernández since he made what at the time he described as a “dream” loan move from Manchester United to the club he supported as a boy. On Sunday, he spent the entire 90 minutes watching on from the substitute’s bench as Real Madrid went down 2-1 to Barcelona. It was telling that, even when chasing a goal in a game with huge implications for the destination of the Liga title, Hernández was not called upon. Manager Carlo Ancelotti instead used his three substitutes elsewhere.
It was the second time this season that Hernández has watched El Clásico from the bench, and barring a Champions League meeting, means he will now not get a chance to leave his mark on the biggest game in club soccer. For Hernández, the disappointment was just the continuation of a situation he has endured for much of this season and indeed for two seasons before that.
The 26-year-old’s one has made only one start in La Liga for Real Madrid, and that was back in October. The only other occasions in which Ancelotti has named him in his first XI were in both legs of a Copa del Rey tie against lower-league Cornella and in home and away Champions League matches against minnows Ludogorets. The return from long-term injury of young forward Jesé Rodriguez has relegated his role yet further to seemingly that of “use only in emergency.”
His thoughts are surely already turning to next season, when, he has made it clear, playing regularly is essential. That is unlikely to come back at parent club Manchester United, where, having fallen down the pecking order under both Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes, he was quickly deemed surplus to requirements by current manager Louis van Gaal. A transfer looks probable, and a range of clubs from England, Italy and Spain have been linked.
Before that, though, he has commitments with Mexico and his lack of playing time, and therefore surely match fitness, must be a concern for both Hernández and Miguel Herrera. El Tri’s coach is attempting to build two distinct squads that can compete in both South America’s Copa America and Concacaf’s Gold Cup this summer. With Herrera making it clear the priority is the Gold Cup, and that’s where he’ll be taking his first-choice lineup, Hernández will hope to be heading to North America rather than South.
For the two friendlies, on Saturday against Ecuador in Los Angeles and next Tuesday against Paraguay in Kansas City, Hernández is joined the squad by Raul Jimenez, who has been enduring similarly sparse playing time to his compatriot across Madrid at Atletico. The forward contingent is completed by Villarreal’s Giovani dos Santos and Pumas’ uncapped Eduardo Herrera.
If Mexico’s recent friendlies are any indication, two will start in one of the matches, with the remaining pair lining up in the other. While international action is often seen as a distraction at the business end of the club season, Hernández now needs as many minutes as possible. With any significant playing time at Madrid until the end of the season unlikely, he will be desperate to hone the sharpness in front of goal that made him such a fan favorite for both Manchester United and Mexico. And, after a season of frustration, a goal or two will go a long way to returning the infectious smile that further endeared him to supporters of club and country.