Let’s go back to 2015 on a damp, chilly December evening inside Bayer Leverkusen’s BayArena stadium.
The German crowd–boisterous as always–was looking to rejuvenate its team, having just failed to qualify for the knockout stage of the Champions League due to a 1-1 draw with Barcelona a few days earlier.
Javier Hernandez, affectionately known as Chicharito, had scored in that match, three minutes after Lionel Messi in the first half, but the result wasn’t enough to see Leverkusen go through as Roma had claimed the second spot in the group.
So on this chilly evening, you could sense the Mexican star wanted to make up for his team’s misfortunes against Borussia Monchengladbach–who had not lost a league match in more than two months up to that point.
It was the 62nd minute, Leverkusen was 1-0 up and then, Chicharito delivered what everyone wanted, scoring a well-crafted goal, sending the crowd into pandemonium as Mariachi music played in the background.
But he wasn’t done as 13 minutes later, he scored again, and 60 seconds later, he netted his third–his first hat trick for the club and second ever of his career.
A year later, Chicharito scored another hat trick; this time it would be a perfect one (left foot, right foot, header) against Mainz in a 3-2 win.
After the match, his then-teammate Kevin Volland stated that there is no other player he has ever seen who is as good in front of goal. High praise from a player who has had 10 international caps for Germany and was included in the 30-man preliminary roster for the 2014 World Cup.
In May of this year, Chicharito became his country's all-time leading international scorer, having passed Jared Borgetti's 46 goals when he scored in a friendly against Croatia.
Chicharito ended his Leverkusen career with 39 goals in 76 appearances, but more importantly, he left a unique impression with the fans, as when news surfaced of his move to West Ham, where he has signed a three-year deal after a £16 million transfer, many wished him well but more importantly, people pleaded to make sure they take care of him, as if he was a four-month old puppy, entering a new home.
And this is the magic of Chicharito.
Hernandez is not only a mobile, clinical striker, with a hyperactive thirst for scoring, he brings you something that is rarely seen by any other professional–unconditional heart.
“I like to breathe, eat and talk about football,” Chicharito said, speaking to SI.com, before last year’s Copa America Centenario. “I have a deficit. In Mexico we say hiperactivo—hyperactive. I am hyperactive! I cannot be standing here like this in my life. I need to keep walking with my phone, speaking. I can’t be calm. On the pitch you can probably see that. I’m always moving-moving-moving. And I’m a cheeky player. I try to be there and there and there. And if you’re standing up, I’ll make it look like I’m moving this way—and then I move that way.”
If you’re a defender, then this should terrify you, but if you’re a West Ham supporter, this is music to your ears.
West Ham, the East London club with one of the most passionate, loyal supporters in the Premier League, is the perfect fit for Hernandez for this exact reason. If you’re a Hammer, your biggest request is blue-collar effort from your players, and that is exactly what Chicharito offers. He is not without fault, is certainly not immune to a scoring slump and at 29 is approaching the end of his prime years, but an in-form Chicharito is still a very troublesome prospect for opposing defenses. The mutual admiration between Chicharito and manager Slaven Bilic, who has coveted the forward for some time, also bodes well for the fit.
“The club’s record of signing strikers in recent years has been questionable to say the least, but in landing Chicharito it feels like we’ve finally signed a natural goal scorer,” says Stuart Jones, a life-long West Ham supporter and digital marketer from London. “He’s a penalty-box predator, who is also Premier League proven. Happy days!”
In order to understand Chicharito’s popularity, it's important to be familiar with Mexican culture, which is why, wherever Hernandez goes, his fans follow–and West Ham knows this, having already launched West Ham Español, the day Chicharito was made official. The account on Twitter already has nearly 20,000 followers.
Chicharito’s fan base (more than four million followers on Instagram and eight million on Twitter) is a clear indication of how adored he is by the Mexican community, as his Instagram posts of him wearing El Tri colors or posing with another national teammate reach in the hundreds of thousands of "likes."
He is a devout Catholic, known for his pre-game rituals, kneeling to the ground and praying before every match, and in 2012, he was named the Mexican ambassador to UNICEF, an honor that he takes very seriously.
“Being a UNICEF National Ambassador is a significant responsibility,” he said when he was appointed. “I am now a spokesperson for this great organization, and must call people to action in order to help millions of children and adolescents have access to the same opportunities and to a better life”,
As a soccer player, Chicharito will bring a killer instinct to a team that has been in need of a consistent striker for quite some time, and since Dimitri Payet’s departure to Marseille, West Ham supporters have been anxious to get behind a player who excites them.
East London and the Premier League can feel good about the fact that in Chicharito, a club not only acquires talent, but also get a hard-working man who wears his heart on his sleeve, and eagerly lives in the moment.