Adversity is a great teacher.
Or so the saying goes.
In sports, great players will often sit in adversity's classroom at least once in their career. For a great player like Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, his class time was much longer than he would have liked.
But it’s starting to pay dividends now.
Players need to play. They need game time. A great player sitting on the bench is simply passing time. Yes, there are things to be learned on the sidelines. But, without actually putting the learning into practice, that knowledge is just occupying brain space.
Brains, and the rest of the body, need to be exercised.
The future held such promise for Chicharito Hernandez back in 2010. The Mexican national team member was a rising star headed to one of the most storied clubs in soccer – Manchester United.
Brain and body were put to good use in Chicharito's early United days. In his first year (2010-11 season) under Sir Alex Ferguson's watch, Chicharito appeared in 27 matches (12 substitute appearances), scoring 12 goals.
He averaged 24 appearances over his next three seasons with the club under Ferguson's replacements – David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal. Although he scored 24 goals in that time, Chicarito struggled at times to fit into each manager's respective philosophies of what a striker should be.
Loaned out to La Liga powerhouse, Real Madrid, for the 2014-15 season, it was a chance for a fresh start. Known as a “poacher” type of player, pouncing on scoring opportunities more than creating chances for himself and others, Chicharito was unable to make much of his time at Real Madrid.
With the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and Karim Benzema on the squad, who were considred to be more complete players, Chicharito played the bench.
“I belong to a great team but I'm not part of the important bit - the actual games,” he told Fox Sports in March.
There were glimpses of Chicharito, the scoring star, like his 88' goal against Atlético Madrid in their 2015 Champions League quarterfinal (second leg). But, those highlights were few and far between. His missed opportunities became social media talking points more than his goals.
Chicharito found himself back at Old Trafford after his La Liga time came to an end. And he was once again reunited with Van Gaal and his not-so-best friend, the bench.
A striker's mentality is to score. Self-belief, confidence and to a degree, arrogance, are the hallmarks of the great ones. It's like a shooter's mentality in basketball or a quarterback in football. They can score whenever they have a chance. And once they get in the zone, in rhythm, watch out!
They want the ball in their hands, or in Chicharito's case, on his foot. They believe they are difference makers.
It's a challenge for any player to sit...and watch. It challenges one mentally. Questions and doubts arise.
That was Chicharito's challenge when he returned to Manchester United. Appearing in a less significant role with the Reds took its toll. His body language and that Chicharito smile that Mexicans loved were gone from the pitch.
It wasn't long after the start of this season's Premier League opener that Chicharito was gone.
Another season, another team, another country.
Germany's top soccer league is the Bundesliga. Much like the Premier League, Mexicans have struggled to make headway into one of the world's best leagues. Chicharito is only the sixth Mexican player to play in the league (Pavel Pardo and Ricardo Osorio were the first two to play there in 2006).
Judging by the promotion of Chicharito by Bundesliga, the Bayer Leverkusen move is seen as a win.
Four goals in nine appearances with the team in both Bundesliga and Champions League matches, Chicharito is making the most of his early opportunity with the German club. Two of those goals came in the team's most recent CL match against AS Roma.
It was a game that had all the makings of the Chicharito of his Chivas days in Liga MX. He played with a fire that seemed to have faded over the past few years. Scoring on an early penalty kick and a 19' goal, Chicharito and Bayer Leverkusen jumped out to an early 2-0 lead.
There were more opportunities throughout the game for Chicharito. But, as many have come to know about his game over these adversity-filled seasons:
Despite the misses, Chicharito still had a fantastic performance today. Will be excellent for his self-esteem. Hope JC Osorio was watching.— Cesar Hernandez (@cesarhfutbol) October 20, 2015
Is Chicharito's game on the rise again? If so, this bodes well not only for Bayer Leverkusen, but also the Mexican National team.
After dispensing of a struggling American team in the CONCACAF playoff earlier this month, Mexico is now under the guidance of new manager, Juan Carlos Osorio. With World Cup qualifiers set to begin next month, it's important that Chicharito show well in the Bundesliga.
“His place in future El Tri squads was never in much doubt, but the strong showing will give the manager no concern about starting the forward when the manager makes his Mexico debut in November,” goal.com’s Jon Arnold recently wrote.
If, however, his appearance in Germany reverts to the Old Trafford and Bernabéu Chicharito, he'll be back in adversity's classroom again.