Collateral damage or unnecessary casualty at Old Trafford?
When your team is in with a shout of signing a 30 league goal a season striker, the chances are, you’re not particularly likely to think of any ramifications. With reports suggesting that Manchester United are perilously close to acquiring the signature of Robin van Persie, the only thing United fans are thinking about is how many the Dutchman might net next season.
But should the transfer go ahead, not everyone is going to prosper from it and there is likely to be at least one casualty in the Old Trafford dressing room. Berbatov might be off, but Van Persie, Rooney, Welbeck and Hernandez can’t all fit in the same team. Only 18 months ago, Javier Hernandez was one of the hottest strikers in the Premier League, but the Mexican could be left sweating should Van Persie switch London for Manchester.
It may be tempting fate to talk about Robin van Persie as a Manchester United player and the chances are that we could all be well off the mark in pre-empting his transfer away from Arsenal. But with speculation reaching something of a fever pitch in recent days, now feels like the right time to evaluate the real impact of his potential arrival.
Sir Alex Ferguson may simply view Robin van Persie’s availability as an opportunity that’s too good to turn down. The striker may have a suspect injury record and it’s quite likely that he will come at an extreme expense to the wage bill aswell, but even at £20million, it still offers real value for one of the league’s few proven goal scorers. At 29, he is unlikely to have much of a resale value if any at all, but if he fires United to a couple of Premier League titles or European silverware, it won’t matter.
But there is only so much room at the inn. Not everyone can co-exist in the striking ranks at Old Trafford and if United really do compliment Wayne Rooney with Robin van Persie, then a passage to a first team striking spot looks bleak for the rest. That’s if it wasn’t hard enough already- just ask Dimitar Berbatov.
So why single out Javier Hernandez for the doom mongering?
Fate hasn’t been too kind on the Mexican after his breakthrough year for United in hid debut 2010-11 term. This time last year saw Hernandez struggling with a bizarre head injury that saw him suffering with migraines after he was concussed by a football to the head, of all things. Consequently, it was Danny Welbeck that started the season leading the line with Wayne Rooney for United as Hernandez missed the opening game against West Brom.
But what was Hernandez’s loss was ultimately Welbeck’s gain as the England striker never looked back, The two seemed to be in direct competition for a place in the team alongside Rooney and it was Welbeck who often seemed to get the nod over the 24-year-old Hernandez. That didn’t necessarily stop the Mexican from scoring goals though.
Hernandez seems to epitomize the phrase ‘right place, right time,’ and he proved that as the season went on. Following a successful two-goal return to the starting line-up against Bolton, Hernandez popped up off the bench to score in the controversial 1-1 draw with Liverpool which saw him hit a good run of form going into the new year. But even as he scored against Everton in the 1-0 win at Goodison Park, there was a feeling that he, Rooney and Welbeck might not be a particularly affluent starting trio. And so It proved as more often than not, as Rooney was paired with either Welbeck or Hernandez, as opposed to all three starting together.
But just as Hernandez was looking to find some form and get a run of games, injury really disrupted his form and flow. An Ashley Cole tackle, which was potentially one of the worst of the season, damaged ankle ligaments back in September and a freak injury against Villa in December to the same ankle set him back further. Both knocks took time to get back to full fitness, but as Welbeck cemented his place in the team further, full match time seemed hard to come by.
In the second half of the season, Hernandez was by no means poor, but he seemed to lack a bit of the zip of his previous term. His aforementioned fitness issues probably didn’t help and when your team’s challenging for the title, there isn’t any place for sentiment. But surprisingly, Hernandez actually played one more league game than he did last term and managed 10 goals in the process. Not a terrible return for someone who supposedly endured a difficult second season.
It is difficult to see how Sir Alex Ferguson would rank his strikers next term, although if Van Persie does come, Hernandez is vying for third choice with Welbeck. The problem is for the Mexican, that Welbeck offers the more varied skillset. The young England man offers a more physical presence with the better all round play where as Hernandez has more specialist goal scoring attributes. You can argue till you’re blue in the face about who you think is better, but Welbeck’s versatility is likely to see more game time- he could survive in an altered formation in the same way Daniel Sturridge did at Chelsea. Hernandez has to play more centrally.
As a result of that, the signing of Van Persie could drastically harm his chances of first team football. But one half-difficult term doesn’t necessarily mean that his Old Trafford future is doomed to failure. Sir Alex wouldn’t hand out a five-year contract, as he did to Hernandez last October, unless he seriously rates his future at the club. Furthermore, Robin van Persie’s injury record is more than just an elephant in the room. Last season was the first time he’s made over 30 league appearances in his career. The chances are that Welbeck and Hernandez would both see game time.
But after Welbeck’s performances in the Euros, there is a chance that Hernandez could find himself as the fourth choice striker should Robin van Persie come in. There is plenty of football to be played next season, but last season’s fourth choice striker didn’t see all that much game time. And he once cost £30million.
Hernandez is a great talent and a fantastic striker. But if Fergie really pushes on with Van Persie, then the Mexican is going to have to make every chance count next season. Or else face an uncertain Old Trafford future.
How do you see Hernandez’s future playing out if RVP comes in? Will he be happy with a bit part role or do you see trouble ahead? Let me know how you see it panning out on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me your views.