The proverbial door for young Mexican talent is waiting to be opened.
Despite the presence of such young talent as Carlos Vela (Arsenal) and Giovani Dos Santos (Galatasaray) in Europe, it is Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez who could break that door wide open and allow for further talent to make its way from Mexico to the Old World.
From seemingly out of nowhere, English giants Manchester United swooped in and plucked the talented 21-year-old forward from the Mexican Primera Division, striking a reported $15 million deal with Chivas de Guadalajara that will send Hernandez to the Red Devils after the World Cup.
But whether clubs take a further look at the young talent in Mexico or not depends on Hernandez's success. If Hernandez makes it big with Manchester United, other powerful European clubs could start to pay more attention to the Mexican league, long undervalued in terms of a source of talent. If Hernandez flops, the path to Europe for Mexican players will likely continue as it has been, through national team exposure -- up to 11 players from Mexico's World Cup squad currently ply their trade in Europe.
Manchester United's move for Hernandez was evern more surprising considering Hernandez's track record. Prior to 2010, Hernandez had all of one cap with the full national team -- he wasn't wasn't particularly involved in Olympic qualifying, nor did he play a single minute in World Cup qualifying. Although he was 17 in 2005, Hernandez was not part of the Mexico team that won the U-17 World Cup that year.
Hernandez's path to United was in sharp contrast to Vela's path to Arsenal. Vela was a key part of the 2005 team's success and even as a youngester was tabbed back then as a possible starter in the 2010 World Cup. Vela's standout performances in the U-17 World Cup inevitably drew interest from various European clubs before he opted to sign for Arsenal.
However, by comparison, Hernandez is a late bloomer. His lone international exploits consisted of success in the Copa Libertadores a year ago. It was Hernandez's domestic form for Chivas (he scored 11 goals in 17 appearances in the 2009 Apertura) which earned him a call-up to the senior Mexican national team in September 2009 against Colombia. Chicarito's move to England is a boon for Mexico in general and has sent a jolt of electricity through the country.
"It speaks well to Javier's quality, Guadalajara's youth system and Mexican football," said Mexico manager Javier Aguirre in a recent press conference. "Now the players are leaving very young, and we are beginning to look like those exporting nations in South America."
For Aguirre's statement to ring true, Hernandez must do something Vela and Dos Santos could not, and make an impact in the Premiership right away. Injuries have hampered Velas' career with the Gunners, but he has yet to fully distinguish himself. Dos Santos was a bust with Tottenham and his best days in England were in its second-tier Championship with Ipswich Town.
Other top-tier Mexican talents such as Pavel Pardo (formerly with Stuttgart) and Francisco Fonesca (formerly Benfica) parlayed their national team success into moves to Europe with mixed fortunes. However, for the most part they were all well-established internationals before making the move. One of the few exceptions being Vela, and the Dos Santos brothers (Giovani and Jonathan) whose family moved to Spain when they were pre-teens.
However, Hernandez has the ability to change that. If he succeeds, other European clubs would begin to view Mexican teams as viable source of top young talent and sign Mexican starlets like a Pablo Barrera, Adrian Aldrete or Jorge Torres Nilo before they became established at the international level.
Despite this, Hernandez does not necessarily consider himself a torch-bearer. He said he is concerned with his own situation and little else beyond that.
"I'm going to worry about playing," said Hernandez in a press conference. "There are people who would pay a lot of money to be at a club like that ... I play for the love for the shirt, for the love of football."