Signing for Real Madrid is often seen as the pinnacle of a player’s footballing career but those heights are more often than not tinged with a weight of expectation that can hold down even the greatest players in the world.
The need, not the desire, to win at all costs, the hard-to-please Bernabeu crowd, the world watching your every move. Real Madrid may be arguably the greatest club on the planet but it is also an institution that can chew talent up and spit it right back out. Although the glitz and glamour of pulling on the famous white shirt may blind everything else when putting pen to paper on contract at the Santiago Bernabeu, there is a big risk that dream may soon become nightmare.
Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez aired all the usual comments on his unveiling at the Bernabeu on Monday afternoon after completing a season-long loan move from Manchester United. A dream come true? Tick.
He supported Real Madrid as a child? “Obviously”, he said. Obviously.
The Mexican struggled for regular starts at Old Trafford and with Falcao completing his move to United yesterday those chances were set to become fewer and further between.
It was therefore expected that the 26-year-old resembled someone who had just won the lottery on his Madrid unveiling. With Karim Benzema leading the line for Carlo Ancelotti Hernandez’s time on the pitch isn’t expected to get much greater but that didn’t matter for a man who scored 59 goals in only 85 starts in Manchester. Another 69 appearances came from the United bench, making him the Red Devils’ ‘super sub’, a term that will probably be used frequently by the Spanish press too.
The 13 players that have left Manchester United under Louis van Gaal
The 13 players that have left Manchester United under Louis van Gaal
1/13 Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund £6.3m)
The Japanese midfielder arrived at Old Trafford amid a sea of hope and expectation, but his time at Old Trafford will sadly be remembered as a failure. Kagawa established himself as one of the standout attacking midfielders in European football, helping Borussia Dortmund to consecutive Bundesliga titles between 2010 and 2012 before United came calling. Sir Alex Ferguson seemed uncertain on where Kagawa’s best position was, alternating him between his favoured central role and playing as a left-sided winger where he was largely anonymous. His torrid time in the Premier League came to an end on Sunday, as Dortmund took him back for around £10m less than they received two years ago.
2/13 Alexander Buttner (Dinamo Moscow, £5.6m)
Just when Buttner put in his best performance for United, he found himself out the door. His showing against Bayern Munich last season was arguably his finest in the red of United, and with Patrice Evra nearing the end of his contract, there was talk that the Dutchman could push on for a regular starting spot. However, Van Gaal’s arrival signalled the end of his two-year stay with United, as he clearly signalled his intention not to play under the former Netherlands manager that overlooked him for the World Cup.
3/13 Patrice Evra (Juventus, £2.5m)
Evra unusually agreed a one-year contract extension just over a month before his contract ran out only to leave the club two months later. The veteran left-back signed a new deal to keep him with the club until 2015, and looked to be in Van Gaal’s plans to help develop new signing Luke Shaw. That was until Italian champion Juventus lodged a £2.5m offer, and United decided to cash in on the Frenchman after eight years of loyal service.
4/13 Bebe (Benfica, £2.4m)
One of Sir Alex Ferguson’s biggest mistakes finally left United this summer after a dismal time in Manchester. Bebe arrived at United in 2010 for a rather worrying £7m even though Ferguson had never seen him play, and he quickly showed that he did not have the skills to cut it at Old Trafford. Just two appearances and three loan spells later, Bebe was offloaded to Benfica for less than half of what United paid for him. The less said about Bebe, the better.
5/13 Rio Ferdinand (QPR, free)
While Ferdinand technically left the club before Van Gaal arrived, you have to believe that the incoming manager would’ve instructed the club to tie him down to a new contract should he feature in his plans. Having spent 12 long and successful years with the club, Ferdinand was on the move, which came as a surprise given that United had already bode farewell to another veteran defender in Nemanja Vidic. The former England captain agreed a free transfer to join up once more with Harry Redknapp after agreeing to join QPR, having worked together at West Ham at the start of Ferdinand’s career.
6/13 Angelo Henriquez (Dinamo Zagreb, loan)
Henriquez is yet to make his United debut despite joining the club two years ago, and at 20 years old the belief is that he may have missed the boat if he is to break into the side. Having been sent on loan to Wigan and Real Zaragoza, Henriguez will spend this season with Dinamo Zagreb, and the likelihood is that he won’t be part of Van Gaal’s plans in the future.
7/13 Nani (Sporting Lisbon, loan)
The great hope who was tasked with replacing Cristiano Ronaldo never really delivered on his promise, as he ranged between the occasionally sublime and the regularly frustrating during his many performances for United. He looked to be on his way out of the club two seasons ago, only for David Moyes to arrive and promptly reward him with a five-year contract that still has four years left to run. Despite the lengthy deal, Nani was offered to his former club Sporting Lisbon, and will spend the season back in his homeland in an attempt to find some form.
8/13 Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, loan)
United were quick to sign the promising Zaha after he impressed with Crystal Palace, but he has never really been given a chance to stamp his claim for first team recognition. Moyes sent him out on loan to Cardiff for the second half of last season, and he has been allowed to return to South London for this campaign in an attempt to rediscover the form that saw many mark him out as an England star of the future.
9/13 Javier Hernandez (Real Madrid, loan)
The eternal super-sub has departed for the European champions to become, well, a super-sub. It’s highly unlikely that Hernandez will be able to usurp the likes of Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, and he looks likely to be used by Carlo Ancelotti as cover for the big-three alongside Jese Rodriguez once he returns from a long-term knee injury.
10/13 Tom Lawrence (Leicester, £1m)
The 20-year-old made his sole appearance for United at the end of last season after interim manager Ryan Giggs handed him his first Premier League start in the 3-1 win over Hull – he was later substituted for the United legend’s final appearance before retirement. Having spent loan spells with Carlisle United and Yeovil Town during the last year, he completed a £1m move to Premier League newcomers Leicester City on deadline day.
11/13 Danny Welbeck (Arsenal, £16m)
A somewhat surprise departure on the final day of the transfer window saw Welbeck head to Premier League rivals Arsenal for £16m in a deal that was not announced until nearly 1am this morning. Welbeck has always struggled to lock himself into the starting line-up under both Ferguson and Moyes, and while he has made three appearances under Van Gaal he did not start a league game for United under the Dutchman. Welbeck will hope a solid run in the Arsenal side in the absence of Olivier Giroud will help establish himself at his new club.
12/13 Nick Powell (Leicester, loan)
Powell joined United as a highly-rated teenager from Crewe Alexander tipped for a big future, and spent last season with Wigan where he impressed in the Championship. His reward is a chance to show he can cut it in the Premier League, and his addition to Leicester could be one of the loan signings of the summer if it pays off, such is his talent. While he may not feature in Van Gaal’s plans just yet, regulars at the King Power Stadium will be licking their lips in anticipation at seeing what he can offer to Nigel Pearson’s side.
13/13 Michael Keane (Burnley, loan)
Keane is another who has been rewarded for a long spell in the championship with a loan move to a Premier League side. He’s featured for Leicester, Derby and Blackburn in recent years having made just one appearance for United, and Burnley will hope he can help them to an unlikely Premier League survival given they are the bookies favourites to go down at the end of the season.
While ‘super sub’ status is a term most strikers want to rid themselves of, it is a term that Chicharito seems happy to adopt during his year in the Spanish capital, a year that could be extended into a permanent move come the end of the campaign if agreed by all parties. The Mexico international, who has an impressive return of more than a goal in every other game for his country, was like a kid at Christmas as he faced the press for the first time in the Bernabeu press room. This wasn’t just the kind of delight of joining Real Madrid, it was the kind of delight that should see him play without the usual weight of expectation on his shoulders. He’s at the Bernabeu to win things but he’s at the Bernabeu to enjoy himself.
“I’m delighted and completely grateful to the whole institution of Real Madrid for having made the effort [to sign me] and I’ll give it my all,” he said. “There is no player in the world who can say they wouldn’t like to wear this shirt or be at this club. It would be a big lie. For me it is a dream come true. I’m really happy to be here and I’m going to try and have fun, to help the team and win titles.”
His desire to help the team was a recurring theme throughout his introduction. Hernandez, who becomes the fourth Mexican to play for Madrid and follows in the footsteps of club legend Hugo Sanchez, who scored 208 goals in 282 official games for Los Blancos, would not be drawn into talking about whether he would be happy to start the majority of matches on the bench, but his constant reference to being happy to help the team suggests he will be and that is perfect for the European champions.
"I’ve come here to belong to Real Madrid and I’m delighted to be at this club,” he confirmed. “I always try to lead my life with a lot of objectives and goals and I’m here to give everything, both on and off the pitch, and to help this team to be as or more successful than it is. None of the big teams, and this is the biggest, can win with just one player, they need everyone to achieve as a group”.
Eyebrows were raised when Madrid ended the transfer window by signing the Manchester United man and not Colombian star Falcao, who had been linked with a move back to the Spanish capital all summer. Reports suggest the former Atletico Madrid man would have still been a Madrid player had the club wanted him, but instead president Florentino Perez resisted another ‘Galactico’ this summer and instead went for the option best suited to Ancelotti’s plans.
While a natural goalscorer such as Falcao would have been hard to turn down, the Italian has been looking for a striker more in the mould of Alvaro Morata, who left the club for Juventus this summer. A player who will not take the limelight away from Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale and a player who is happy to play second fiddle to Benzema.
Morata’s patience eventually ran out but Chicharito offers the perfect replacement.
He arrives at the Bernabeu knowing that he is there not only to add goals and provide competition for Benzema in the No.9 role, but to help the lethal twosome of Bale and Ronaldo. Ancelotti commented in the close season that he did not necessarily need another striker and that the No.9 role was to help his attacking talismen in their quest for goals. Benzema is not one of the best natural finishers in the world but his link-up play in a front three is what makes Ancelotti stick with the former Lyon man. A striker is there to score goals but a lot of the work Benzema does for the team goes unnoticed.
Falcao would not have provided the same qualities. While on paper Madrid may have preferred the Monaco forward, ‘El Tigre’ would not have shared the same selflessness in his play. The danger was that he would overshadow Ronaldo and the current Ballon d’Or and UEFA Best Player in Europe would not have been happy with that. Madrid did not want those problems and Chicharito does not bring them. Falcao may well have done.
The Mexican is also a player who should gain the support of the traditionally tough Madrid supporters. While moans and groans have greeted Benzema on more than one occasion for his somewhat lax approach to matches, Chicharito will provide the opposite with his energy, pace, and never-say-die approach that makes him a likeable character for the teams he plays for. Madrid like a tried and Hernandez is a trier.
“You're going to see a decisive, determined Javier, a professional on and off the field, and I'll try to repay the trust placed in me,” he said. “What we want is to win titles and we'll work hard for it. I'll give a hundred percent to contribute and help the titles come. I’m always grateful to the people who support me and follow me. You are going to see a Chicharito who’ll give everything on the field. It's a team game and the most important thing is for the club to keep winning titles”.
The arrival of Hernandez will give Madrid a welcome boost after throwing away a 2-0 lead at Real Sociedad on Sunday to lose 4-2. His signing will not fix the problems Ancelotti endured in San Sebastian but it will offer a welcome boost ahead of Madrid’s next match, a crucial derby clash against La Liga champions Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu on Saturday, September 13. Chicharito has scored on his debuts for both United and C.D. Guadalajara and he will look to make it a hat-trick of debut goals against Atleti.
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