Football

Hernandez proves LVG wrong to sell him

Selling Chicharito to Leverkusen is one of van Gaal's biggest mistakes

REPORTING FROM LEVERKUSEN

BAYER LEVERKUSEN 3
(Julian Brandt 28, Javier Hernandez 73, Vladlen Yurchenko 87)

WOLFSBURG 0

 

Of all of Louis van Gaal's bungles as Manchester United manager, his biggest could well be letting "Kleine Erbse" leave Old Trafford last summer.

That's German for "Little Pea", the nickname of former Red Devils striker Javier Hernandez who van Gaal shipped off to Bayer Leverkusen for £7.3 million ($14m) eight months ago.

Local fans here call the 27-year-old Mexican "Kleine Erbse", although he is popularly known as Chicharito.

Yesterday morning (Singapore time), Hernandez showed just what United were missing when he scored a curling stunner in a 3-0 win over Wolfsburg at the BayArena.

That was his 24th goal in 35 games for Leverkusen - 15 in Bundesliga, five in Champions League and four in the German Cup.

Wayne Rooney, United's top scorer this season, has scored 10 fewer.

The emergence of teenage sensation Marcus Rashford, who has bagged five goals in his first eight games for the club, might have quelled the discontentment among United fans recently.

LOWEST GOALS TOTAL

But the 18-year-old's rise has merely papered over the cracks for the 20-time English champions.

Van Gaal's men have scored just 38 goals in 30 league matches and are on course for their lowest goals total since the English Premier League began in 1992.

Unenviable records aside, their toothlessness in front of goal could even ultimately cost van Gaal his job at the end of the season.

The Dutchman has admitted recently he could be sacked in the summer if he fails to lead the Red Devils to a top-four finish and a Champions League spot this season.

How he must be kicking himself for letting Hernandez go.

All the Mexican wanted was a chance to prove himself. He never got it under van Gaal.

At Leverkusen, Chicharito proved that he is more than a "super sub", a tag he earned at United.

He has started in 20 of his 23 Bundesliga appearances this season.

Three consecutive Player of the Month awards - November, December and January - showed how quickly he has adapted to German football.

Having played in both of Mexico's World Cup qualifying double header with Canada over four days last week, Leverkusen coach Robin Schmidt left his top-scorer on the bench until the final 30 minutes.

Hernandez didn't take long to make an instant impact.

Just 12 minutes after coming on, he pinched the ball off 1.89m-tall defender Dante near the halfway line to launch a counter-attacking move for Leverkusen.

Two passes and a minute later, Hernandez received the ball again at the edge of the box and curled a beauty from outside the box into the bottom left corner of Diego Benaglio's goal, with the Swiss shot-stopper rooted to the ground.

Hernandez then showed superb awareness to lay the ball off for teammate Vladlen Yurchenko to fire home Leverkusen's final goal with three minutes left.

REGRET

With Rooney injured, Anthony Martial overworked and Memphis Depay under-performing, van Gaal might have regretted selling Hernandez to Leverkusen.

Publicly, though, the United manager has defended his decision to offload the Mexican, saying he preferred to put his "faith" in one or two strikers, as opposed to having increased competition among his strikers.

Hernandez, who said van Gaal told him he had only a "one per cent" chance of playing, is convinced he made the right decision to move to Germany.

"What I was missing in the last two or three years, it was like I was playing sometimes and then returning to the bench," Hernandez said during Leverkusen's training camp in the United States in January.

"But now that I am playing most of the games or almost all of my games here in my club, that's what I need.

"People sometimes think the confidence is with goals, but I don't think like that. I think confidence is to play day by day, to get rhythm."

Indeed, United's loss is Leverkusen's gloss.

Wolfsburg