For Mexican soccer player Javier Hernandez its been a long winding road to happiness in Europe on, and off, the pitch.
With five goals in his first six games in all competitions, Chicharito is continuing his torrid scoring pace from last season. He recently scored a natural hat trick to help his German team Bayer Leverkusen defeat Mainz 3-2 in a Bundesliga match.
Chicharito’s success in Europe has made him the most famous soccer player in his native country.
“All the Mexican players and children in my country dream about getting in the first division of Mexico, then the national team and the next step is Europe”, he explained during an interview.
Difficult time in England
Hernandez scored 20 goals his first season at Manchester United, mostly as a substitute, after being acquired from Mexican club Guadalajara in 2010. However, Chicharito fell out of favor with Manchester United coaches David Moyes and Louis van Gaal after the 2013 season.
His lack of playing time there, and during a subsequent season-long loan to Real Madrid, led many to question his ability and talent to successfully compete in European soccer.
Chicharito never lost faith in his skills. Instead, he argued the lack of playing time stunted his growth.
“The most important thing, for me, to not have a lot of minutes,” said Chicharito who is ranked as one of the most prolific scorers in Premiership history, if you account for his minutes-per-goal ratio.
“The problem is I spent a lot of time on the bench, and then I just played one or two games and then kept coming off the bench,” he lamented. “So that was really difficult to get my rhythm.”
The Bundesliga resurgence
After moving to Bayer Leverkusen last season, the striker once again found his rhythm and scoring prowess (26 goals in 40 games) as full time player. Chicharito insists he enjoys playing in Bundesliga.
“The league is very good, it’s a competitive league. They give you the place to show what you can [do]. They work very hard; it’s a very physical league but as well with a lot of football. It’s like a mix of Spain and England. I like it a lot, and I am very happy.”
He also credits the quality of the league in helping him become more than a goal scorer.
“Obviously, the mission of strikers is goals. But for me, I prefer to have some assists, to help the team, to be like a more complete player. Because that makes me happy as well as scoring goals.
“Germany has been very good for me,” he acknowledged, noting he loves living in the cosmopolitan city of Cologne. He also doesn’t mind the winters in Germany.
“A lot of people were telling me that the weather is very bad here but compared to Manchester,” he says with a laugh, “the weather is much better.”
What the future holds
With the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying starting in November, Chicharito doesn’t feel he has a guaranteed spot on the Mexican national team.
“My mind is completely on Leverkusen,” he maintained, “to try and do my best, and do good things at my club to get more call-ups.”
It’s part of the mature approach the veteran 28-year-old soccer player now takes with his life on and off the field.
“If you are good outside and inside the pitch,” Chicharito concluded, “you can achieve a lot of things.”