Hernandez's hard work earns respect at United

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Gary Neville has seen every young talent on the Old Trafford production line for two decades: from the days when he played in the same youth team as David Beckham and Paul Scholes, through the arrival of the then teenagers Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney and now to the emergence of United's new young stars Federico Macheda and Nani.

So when the veteran full-back, not one to indulge in obsequious praise, says that Javier Hernandez is one of the club's "most exciting young prospects for some time", it is worth taking note.

The 22-year-old Mexican's weekend two goals at Stoke City on Sunday not only ensured United did not slip seven points adrift of Chelsea with less than a quarter of the season gone, they may also have prompted some deep thought for Sir Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney. On form, Hernandez is more entitled to a place in United's attack than Rooney and seems more suited to partnering Dimitar Berbatov.

Neville is too canny an operator to get drawn into such a comparison but he was happy to laud Hernandez, in particular his attitude, which has always been as important at Ferguson's United as ability.

"You obviously have talent when you come to this club, but his attitude to work is phenomenal," Neville said. "He's tough, he's grown up in Mexican country, but what sets him apart for me is his work rate every single day.

"He's got the right attributes and his talent. At this club you get rewarded if you work hard and he deserved his goals against Stoke. He will score lots and lots of goals for this club. He is one of the most exciting young prospects we've had for some time."

Hernandez grew up in Guadalajara, a prosperous city twice the size of Manchester, in a family of professional footballers. Both his maternal grandfather and father went to the World Cup finals with Mexico. He joined CD Guadalajara aged nine, making his senior debut at 18. He was not capped by Mexico until he was 21 but has quickly established himself by scoring 11 international goals in 2010, including strikes against the Netherlands, France, Argentina and Spain.

United brought forward his signing once they realised he would go to the World Cup but, when his £7m transfer was announced in April, it seemed choreographed to deflect attention from United's Champions League exit to Bayern Munich the night before. If so, it did not succeed and few were impressed. They are now.

Hernandez has looked good from the moment he took the field as a substitute in the Community Shield. His movement is excellent and he seems to have a priceless knack for scoring goals, be it off his face, as on debut, or the back of his head, as against Stoke.

He has already overtaken the younger Macheda and his emergence probably spells an end to Michael Owen's time at United. The question now is what impact it will have on Rooney, who has not scored from open play this season.

Such are the campaign's demands, Ferguson should be able to juggle his strikers without overly upsetting them, at least until the business end of the season, by which time Rooney may be back in form. Early indications suggest Rooney will also be back in favour in the dressing room, despite casting aspersions on the inhabitants' quality.

Neville said: "The right thing has happened for Wayne, his career, for his life. He's made the right decision and the club keep a great player – someone who works so hard for the team every week. It will take time to settle down but the reality is, time heals."

Owen may get a rare opportunity in the Carling Cup tie against Wolves at Old Trafford tonight and may even be partnered with Hernandez. The former England striker returned to training last week after recovering from his latest injury problem, and will look to take up where he left off in the competition, when he scored two goals against Scunthorpe United in the previous round.