The appointment of David Moyes as West Ham’s manager is not exactly one that will inspire the club’s fan base, and for Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, his arrival will surely bring much uneasiness.
Chicharito knows all too well what it’s like to play under the 54-year-old Scot, as it was under his tenure with Manchester United that essentially ended the Mexican’s career with the Red Devils.
Now, as Moyes arrives in London looking to save a team that is third from last with the worst defensive record in the Premier League, Chicharito will be hoping for a different outcome, especially when you consider the fact that West Ham’s biggest issues have less to do with Hernandez–the club’s top goal scorer with four goals–and more to do with a vulnerable back line that has conceded 23 goals in 11 games.
Given their tumultuous history, the question remains: What will Moyes do with Hernandez, and, more importantly, how will this affect the Mexican striker during a season that leads into the World Cup?
The final day of the 2012-2013 Premier League season was memorable for Manchester United fans as it was the last time they saw Sir Alex Ferguson as their manager. It was an away fixture against West Brom, and Romelu Lukaku’s hat trick denied United a victory in Ferguson's 1,500th game in charge. In classic Fergie style, a match with plenty of action, the result was a 5-5 thriller.
This day also meant a lot to Hernandez. His 62nd-minute goal for United would up being the last of the Ferguson era. Under Sir Alex, Hernandez scored 50 goals in his first three seasons, and thanks to him, fans and pundits were introduced to Chicharito and his reputation as a legitimate star on the European stage. The manager's departure, therefore, was a tough one to take for the Mexican.
“I was shocked, of course," said Hernandez, earlier this year, reflecting on the past. "Nobody saw it coming. That was his life. Was I upset? Of course, he was the manager who brought me over, opened the doors to Europe. He helped me to be a better footballer and we won the 19th and 20th titles together for Manchester United.”
Manchester United brought in Moyes as Ferguson's successor, and it wound up being disastrous for Chicharito, who was essentially frozen out and used as a bit player off the bench.
In the 2013-2014 season, Chicharito made only six league starts and 18 appearances as a substitute, scoring four goals.
His frustrations were publicly addressed during the international break in March of 2014 when he joined the Mexico national team for a friendly against Nigeria. If anything, Hernandez was just excited to get on the field.
“I am very eager to play as my club don't take me much into account. I hope I have the opportunity to play,” said Chicharito, speaking to the press prior to the game.
A month later–after just 10 in charge, total–Moyes was fired as United’s manager.
Following the 2014 World Cup, where Mexico reached the round of 16, Hernandez went to Real Madrid on loan and Moyes also moved to Spain by joining Real Sociedad. Ironically, Moyes’s first victory for the Spanish club was thanks to a Mexican, Carlos Vela, who scored a hat trick and made it 3-0 on the day.
Hernandez’s career didn't kick-start again until his move to the Bundesliga, where he enjoyed two strong seasons with Bayer Leverkusen before signing for the Hammers earlier this summer.
One can’t help but wonder what could have happened to both men and Manchester United’s season if the Moyes/Hernandez relationship had been different, and in many ways it is rather surprising why it didn’t work in the first place. Sure, Wayne Rooney was never going to be dropped, and Robin Van Persie’s brace that secured the Community Shield at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season basically solidified his role going forward. Danny Welbeck, who enjoyed a good season, was playing on the left, so his role was not directly affecting Hernandez’s minutes.
So what happened? For one, the start of their relationship didn’t start well as Hernandez was away with Mexico at the 2013 Confederations Cup, so he missed large portions of the preseason. The constant traveling with Mexico during the first half of the season did not work in his favor, as this only made it harder for both the coach and player to familiarize themselves with each other.
In 11 years with Everton, Moyes had built close relationships with his players, so to him, man management and building a bond with a brand new squad was essential. Chicharito's international conflicts made it difficult to foster such a bond with his new manager.
As the season went on, his role on the bench continued, and not only was Chicharito not playing, he kept getting mixed signals.
After making just one start, rumors began to circulate in late October that Hernandez could be leaving in January but Moyes confirmed he wasn’t going anywhere. “It's not a question for now. He will play a lot of games before the end of the season."
Technically, he was right, but they were almost all part-time performances.
Under Ferguson, Hernandez’s role was not always as a starter but the striker at least knew his place, and more importantly, understood his value. Moyes never really made this obvious to him and for a player, especially a striker, the need to feel wanted is essential in order to be useful.
Moyes never made this clear. A few years down the line, the two are paired together again, and Chicharito is left wondering what another unexpected managerial change may mean for him.
“I hope West Ham fans are going to see a team that is organized and disciplined," Moyes told West Ham's official website upon his hiring on Tuesday. "But I have always only ever wanted to be involved with attacking, entertaining football. And I feel really confident with the group of players we have got here that we can provide that.”
Time can only tell if Moyes is providing lip service, or if he will practice what he preaches, but it will be intriguing to see what Chicharito’s role is moving forward, and how he fits in the pecking order alongside Andy Carroll and Andre Ayew. Under the ousted Slaven Bilic, who had courted Chicharito for some time before landing the forward in the summer, he was a fixture in the lineup.
For now, one can only imagine that, at the very least, all the Mexican striker wants out of his new manager is clarity, honesty and a sign that he is wanted. Anything less would conjure uneasy feelings of deja vu heading into what could be the last World Cup at the height of Chicharito's playing powers.