As soon as Robin van Persie was signed for £24 million, questions were raised as to whether Javier Hernandez will be able to make the same impact as before.
And, it was a legitimate question. After a breakthrough debut season which yielded 20 goals in 45 appearances, he managed just 12 goals in 36 appearances in his second season in red (against a new signing who had scored 37 goals in 48 matches).
It isn't a bad return, but he had set a very high benchmark for himself.
Fast forward to this season, and Chicharito has already equalled last year's tally in just 20 appearances. This includes eight goals in 12 starts and four goals in nine substitute appearances. He has also set up five goals in all competitions.
While RVP takes away all the praise and comparisons with Eric Cantona, it is young, humble, god-fearing Hernandez who is quietly building a legacy.
His is like a character in a series which evolves every season. Season one was about surprising people with what he can offer. Season two showed that he can also be disappointing at times and in season three, we're seeing new facets of his overall game with every episode.
The Hernandez we're seeing this season isn't just about muscle-tearing, neck-snapping back-headers. He isn't just about being the bargain buy of the year.
This year, Chicharito is showing glimpses of what else he can do. He isn't just wriggling past defenders — he is holding them off. He isn't just beating players with raw pace — he is reading the game and trying to break the offside trap with subtle movement. He isn't scuffing his finishes — he is still sharp at the 90th minute to slot home a winner in an electric atmosphere.
More importantly, he has just improved his already inherent ability to be in goal-scoring positions at the right time and right place — a quality which moulds an impact striker.
But does he want to remain just that? Of course, it's a huge responsibility to be an impact striker at a club like United. But his appearances, including the two-goal-one-assist performance against Wigan Athletic on 1 January 2013 are showing Alex Ferguson that he has someone to turn to when star-man Wayne Rooney is sidelined (and the gaffer has already hinted that he'd like more goals from Rooney).
Chicharito's goals — four right-footed, three left-footed, three headers and two tap-ins are an indication to the variety he brings in front of goal.
Forget about the goals he scored against Wigan. When you watch the detailed highlights of the 4-0 thrashing, you will see a more complete player. For a defender, he was like that itch on your back you just can't reach. And even if you reach it, it keeps coming back when you least expect it.
To have a prolonged career at Old Trafford, you need to do a bit of everything. All of United's top front-men weren't just strikers. They were complete centre-forwards. Eric Cantona with his eccentric flair, Ruud van Nistelrooy with his flawless conversion rate, Wayne Rooney with his drive to lead and Van Persie with his experience and golden touch.
Slowly, Javier Hernandez is becoming an all-round player. Not just the player at the shoulder of the last defender, but a player harrying and hustling all over the pitch. Not just a player who is there to tap it in, but a player who also creates opportunities.
It may still not be enough for Ferguson to keep Rooney benched in favour of the Little Pea. But his lethal combination with RVP may be the start of a rotation we've not seen before. And for United, it comes just at the right time — with two legs coming up against Real Madrid in a couple of months.
Fans may only appreciate his finishing now... just the return of goals and just the sight of the Mexican tearing down opponents. But later, maybe 10-15 years later, like how they see Ole Gunnar Solksjaer in retrospect, Hernandez will be appreciated for all that he brought to the pitch.
He may not be the famous no.10 hunting in the open — but the sly man who lurked in the shadows to haunt defenders — and that is just as dangerous.
First Published On : Jan 2, 2013 15:32 IST