Chicharito proves himself 'steal' of season

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports
Chicharito proves himself 'steal' of season
Javier Hernandez's double sent United into the Champions League quarters with a win over Marseille

In these days of soccer's ever-present money madness, a team is lucky if $10 million gets it two arms, two legs and a birth certificate that post-dates the mid-'60s.

With the swirl of cash coursing through the European game, putting extortionate values on players and pushing the sport yet further away from typical economic realities, it is sometimes hard to retain perspective.

One thing is clear though: If for $10 million you can acquire a player who can make a legitimate impact in top-tier competition, that's one heck of a bargain.

In that case, Javier Hernandez might just be the best deal of the season. The Mexican forward, known as "Chicharito," scored twice for Manchester United on Tuesday as it pushed past Marseille 2-1 and clinched a place in the Champions League quarterfinal for the fifth straight year.

Hernandez has not been around long. He was shrewdly snapped up by Sir Alex Ferguson at the beginning of last summer, with United paying a figure to Chivas Guadalajara that was estimated to be around $9.5 million.

If given a few more weeks, Chivas might have demanded a few extra bundles of cash after his eye-catching performance for Mexico in the World Cup.

Even those efforts, though, pale in comparison when stacked against Hernandez's displays for United. The EPL is a tough breeding ground, and some of the biggest stars in the world have floundered in their early days, or even years.

Indeed, United's own staff regarded Hernandez as a player who would be more likely to shine in his second and third seasons at Old Trafford, due to his slight physique and the alterations needed to adapt from the Mexican league to the English style.

They need not have worried. Working tirelessly off the field to improve his strength and conditioning, Chicharito has quickly proven he belongs, primarily with a series of impressive cameos from the substitutes' bench.

Tuesday, however, might have been his coming-out party. Ferguson started him in attack, and Hernandez responded in style – with a robust and opportunistic display that effectively secured the victory.

He stayed onside only five minutes in as Wayne Rooney wreaked havoc with the Marseille defense on the left, and Hernandez timed his run perfectly to score easily at the far post. A second goal late from a Ryan Giggs pass appeared to put the icing on United's night, until the home side had to fend off a late Marseille revival.

It may be that Ferguson is beginning to think now of Hernandez as his long-term option, and there are behind-the-scenes movements in the works that soon will give better indication of his intentions.

Interest from Real Madrid makes it likely that Hernandez will soon be offered a new and improved contract at United that would keep him at the club until 2016. Similarly, there have been suggestions that Dimitar Berbatov will be handed a new three-year deal, even though he has passed the age of 30.

Moving forward, a combination of Rooney and Hernandez could be the sharper and more enterprising of Ferguson's options, and Berbatov could find his playing time increasingly marginalized. With the team generally employing a higher-tempo style in its Champions League games, it would be no shock to see Hernandez start in Europe for the rest of the season.

"It has been developing well," said Ferguson, when asked about the on-field relationship between Rooney and Hernandez. "Where Wayne has been playing in the past couple of games, he is a real threat. He has such power and speed, and Hernandez is unbelievable with his movement. The boy has goals in him."

This season, particularly in the EPL, is one that will be determined by small margins, and the influence of Hernandez cannot be underestimated. Ferguson needs no reminding of that fact – and recently described his summer signings as a "steal."

Theft can rarely have felt so good.