A free-scoring striker with Manchester United, Real Madrid and now Bayer Leverkusen, Javier Hernandez has made his mark in Europe’s biggest leagues. Better known as Chicharito (“Little Pea”), the front man is up there with the best footballers Mexico has ever produced. Sitting down for an interview with FIFA.com, the 28-year-old Tri centre-forward spoke frankly and with some remarkable insight about the secrets of a position that is a lot more demanding than it seems, while also touching on his past, present and future at club and international level.
FIFA.com: You’ve been a professional player for ten years now. Did you expect to have the career you’ve had?
Javier Hernandez: The fact is that it’s been better than I ever dreamed it would be. My dream was to play in the first division and score a goal on my debut. I wanted to be a champion with the best club in Mexico, and I made that happen too. I pictured myself as being an important player for my club and to make the national team, and I ended up winning the title, being the leading goalscorer and going to the World Cup (South Africa 2010). It’s been amazing. It really has.
And you also went to Europe.
Yes, but before that I scored a goal at the World Cup against the team (France) that my grandfather also scored against (Tomas Balcazar, at Switzerland 1954). Then I went to Manchester United, where I won two Premier League titles and played in a Champions League final. Then came Real Madrid – a club anyone would want to play for – and scoring the winner in the derby against Atletico. Now I’m playing in Germany and I can’t complain about anything.
How has it been for you in Germany, having played for two of the biggest clubs in the world?
The Bundesliga has always appealed to me a lot. It’s a league that combines the best of both England and Spain. It’s not as physical as the former or as attractive as the latter, but it’s a mix of the two. And I have to say that they’ve treated me amazingly well. We finished third last year and even though we didn’t start this season quite so well, we’re right in the mix to be up there with the best.
In tactical terms, in what ways do these leagues differ when you’re a striker?
They’re very different, as are the teams I’ve played in, which means that I’ve had to adapt. For example, at Manchester we played 4-4-2 with two wide men who hit crosses into the box. The No9 wasn’t expected to create the play and I had to become more of a finisher. It was totally different at Real Madrid, so much so that my first two goals both came from shots from outside the box, which would never have happened in the Premier League for me. You get more time in Spanish football and you’ve got the freedom to try more things out. Here at Leverkusen the coach’s philosophy is that we all have to win the ball back and do our bit in creating play. Good players have to work on all the attributes they have because you don’t play how you want to play; you have to play for the team.
You’ve been going through something of a lean spell in front of goal lately. As a striker, do you feel pressure when that happens?
I honestly don’t let it bother me. I scored virtually a goal a game for ten years and I didn’t think I was the best in the world then, just as I don’t get depressed now because I haven’t scored in a couple of months. What I like doing most of all is playing football. In these last few games I’ve had to work with the team in other positions, and I’m looking on it as a learning process so that I can become a more complete player, not just a finisher but someone who can play, take people on, turn and do different things.
Don’t you honestly miss being in among the goals, though?
Who doesn’t like scoring? I think if you ask them, even 'keepers would like to get a goal or two (laughs). And that’s what strikers get judged on after all. You can play badly but score three goals and everyone congratulates you. I like coming off the pitch feeling that I’ve given my all. It might sound like a cliché, but what I want to do is help my team. If I score and we lose, then what’s the point? Look at Cristiano [Ronaldo], who was named The Best for his all-round play but who also won the EUROs and the Champions League. If he hadn’t, then he wouldn’t have got that recognition. Goals are the icing on the cake, the reward for all your hard work, and if you’re playing well, then the goals will come. But if I’m playing badly and I’m not scoring, then I don’t feel quite so happy (laughs).
You’ve told us about your experiences as a striker in Europe. Can you tell us what it’s like to lead the line for Mexico these days?
It’s great! The coach, Juan Carlos Osorio, is very adventurous in his approach. He likes to attack and he wants us to keep pushing forward the whole time. That boldness means he has a huge amount of confidence in the Mexico players and you can see that on the pitch, because he gives you a lot of freedom. He does a lot of preparation and he sets matches up in a way that allows us to be comfortable on the pitch and to play an attacking game.
Staying on the theme of El Tri, the team recently ended its losing streak against the USA. Was that a release for you?
Not at all. You might find this hard to believe, but we don’t even talk about things like that. We knew we were coming up against a good side, who were at home too, and that we needed the three points to make a good start to the Hexagonal (the final six-team phase in the CONCACAF qualifying competition for the world finals). So we just focused on the game and not on all the stuff surrounding it. We worked on the tactical, physical and mental side of things so that we could win a very important game for us, which is just what we did, without worrying about what was going on around it.
You said that you’ve achieved more in your career than you could ever have dreamed of. Has the time come for El Tri to finally fulfil their dreams at Russia 2018?
I’m going to be very honest here: ever since I was a boy I’ve always believed that Mexico’s time would come at each and every one of the World Cups they’ve played in (laughs). If everything goes as planned and we make it to the World Cup, I think we’ve got the talent to take that step forward, especially if we get the little bit of luck that we haven’t had in the past.