It’s not often that a comparison to a legend offers something of a double-edged sword, but if you’re Javier Hernandez, comparisons with former Manchester United star Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must give the Mexican more than an element of food for thought.
After coming off the bench to score a brace and force another during United’s 3-2 win away to Aston Villa on Saturday, you didn’t have to be much more than an armchair editor to conjure up the Sunday morning headlines. ‘Super Sub Hernandez’ adorned more than the odd back page during the weekend and wherever there is super sub and Manchester United within the same column, you can place a pretty safe bet as to who else may follow.
Indeed, the comparisons between Hernandez and Norwegian icon Solskjaer were somewhat inevitable following the Mexican’s exploits coming off the bench – not for the first time this season, either. The ex-Guadalajara man has netted eight of his 27 Premier League goals as a substitute for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
Solskjaer was of course famously once of the best in the trade at coming off the bench to score late goals for his side and putting Hernandez in the same bracket as the man who recently led Molde to their second Norwegian league title, is a deeply respectful compliment.
If Hernandez finishes his career with even half the trophy haul that Solskjaer attained – six league titles, two FA Cups, a Champions League and hero worship to boot – then he wouldn’t have done too badly, would he?
Indeed, the legend of Solskjaer is one that is often undermined simply by the term ‘super sub’, which is sometimes chucked around with more than an element of cynicism. Knocking in 126 goals in all competitions – including that goal in 1999 that inscribed his name into United folklore – for one of the biggest clubs in the world, is a remarkable feat, in whichever way you choose to look at it.
But there is of course, the other side of looking back at Solskjaer’s legend. The ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’ may well have been prolific in front of goal, but he wasn’t necessarily prolific on the team-sheet. Over a third of his 235 Premier League appearances constituted cameos from off the substitutes bench. Super sub might not be a derogatory moniker, but it certainly beholds more negative connotations in terms of actual game time, anyway.
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You couldn’t imagine the ever-amiable Javier Hernandez publicly disposing of the term super sub in the way Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko recently did, not half because Fergie simply wouldn’t entertain it and he just doesn’t seem that sort of chap. But in some ways, there certainly wasn’t anything wrong with Dzeko’s statement of ambition. And while many have been quick to dispel comparisons between the Bosnian and Hernandez, they’re certainly not a million miles apart in their current predicaments.
Dzeko recently stated: “I will never be a super sub. I want to play.” It might not be one that United fans will give any particular credence to. But just because Solskjaer was happy to spend a third of his Premier League career for United sitting on the bench, it doesn’t mean that Hernandez necessarily will.
It’s easy to become alarmist when evaluating the fortunes of a striker in Hernandez or Dzeko’s situation, as the fickle finger of fate that is the beautiful game, can strike at any minute. All it would take is an injury to either a Robin van Persie or Sergio Aguero, and the chance is there to seize the initiative within the first team.
But Hernandez’s striking gifts feel like they constitute more than being used as an effective outlet against tiring defenses. His pace and seemingly supernatural instincts will always prove a formidable prospect when introduced against fatigued bodies and minds in a game’s dying moments. But in his 94 performances for United in all competitions, he has already racked up 40 goals. He isn’t far off a hugely impressive one in two strike rate and if you consider the niggling injuries that disrupted what was only his second season in English football last term, it really is a fantastic feat.
Although considering the path to the United team is blocked by the almost insurmountable figures that are van Persie and Wayne Rooney, not to mention an added bit of competition in the guise of Danny Welbeck, then it’s difficult to see how barring an injury to one of the most prominent pair, how he will consistently start for United.
Fergie’s brief experimentations with Rooney at the tip of a diamond formation, had opened up a striking berth in the starting XI, but given the mixed results it served up, it seems difficult to see how that would become a permanent fixture. Ferguson has an embarrassment of attacking riches at United but as Hernandez demonstrated again on Saturday, should he look to tinker with Rooney in an even deeper position, it must be the Mexican, not Welbeck, who steps up to fill the position.
Javier Hernandez doesn’t complain, he doesn’t whine and he certainly doesn’t kick off when he’s left out of this Manchester United side. A model of grace and professionalism, he simply gets on with the job and if Ferguson deems it worthy to leave him on the bench, as we saw on several occasions last term, he doesn’t need to worry about the Mexican banging on his door.
Yet although the mercurially talented Rooney and van Persie are rightly ahead of him in the pecking order, don’t think for five minutes that Hernandez isn’t capable of plying his trade week in, week out, for a massive club.
Solskjaer’s time on the bench at United was nourished by an unprecedented haul of trophies at Old Trafford. Maybe it’s only with such unworldly success that such a talent can be kept happy playing his role in the squad, rather than just the first team. Whether the same will beckon for Hernandez, it is perhaps too early to tell.
Is Hernandez the next Solskjaer? Join me on Twitter @samuel_antrobus and let me know what you think.