M.L.S. Brings Chicharito Closer to Mexico. But Maybe Not Close Enough.

Written by on February 28, 2020

Essentially the most explosive announcement of Main League Soccer’s low season this 12 months got here within the type of an emotional, intimate second shared on YouTube.

By means of tears final month, Javier Hernández, the highest scorer for Mexico’s nationwide workforce, known as his mother and father in his hometown, Guadalajara, and instructed them he had determined to finish his decade-long profession in Europe and signal a contract with M.L.S.’s Los Angeles Galaxy.

“I’m leaving the European dream,” Hernández, 31, mentioned by a speakerphone from his home in Seville, Spain, the place he had been enjoying for 4 disappointing months. “That’s what’s making me cry: It’s not a lot that I couldn’t make it. It’s extra about saying goodbye,” he added, cradling his toddler son on his sofa and getting hugs from his spouse and his life coach.

“Now that the Los Angeles deal is closed, all the pieces is ideal,” Hernández mentioned, breaking down much more. “It’s the starting of my retirement.”

A couple of days later, on the information convention the place he made his transfer to the US official, Hernández was much less humbled. He didn’t play down his European successes, that are many. He began his profession overseas with Manchester United, successful two Premier League titles with the membership, after which had a quick stint with Actual Madrid, distinguishing himself as a dependable substitute. He went on to affix Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, then returned to the Premier League with West Ham, earlier than lastly touchdown in Seville.

“Think about coming again as a Mexican soccer legend,” he mentioned of his return to North America.

The boast struck a nerve in Mexico.

The nation has lengthy had an advanced historical past with its sports activities stars, and particularly with the members of its nationwide soccer workforce. Gamers like Hernández and others are revered for his or her successes, however vilified for even the tiniest weak point. The angle performs itself out in reactions from the stands, and in often-confrontational protection within the Mexican information media. At instances, the stress has grown so intense that Mexico coaches have hired mental coaches to assist their gamers navigate it.

In that context, then, it was not shocking that some seen Hernández’s feedback earlier than and after his arrival in Los Angeles — and even his resolution to affix M.L.S., which lots of his compatriots deride as a step down from the challenges gamers face in Mexico’s high league, Liga MX — as an unforgivable slight.

To his detractors south of the border, Hernández was much less a nationwide hero and extra akin to a traitor, snubbing higher alternatives at dwelling by selecting Los Angeles.

Followers in Mexico seized on his weeping as an indication that Hernández, broadly referred to as Chicharito, was unhappy about becoming a member of M.L.S. and that he knew he had signed up for a decrease stage of play.

“You watch the video games when Mexican groups play towards the M.L.S., and you may inform they’re missing, they don’t have any approach, they appear like little children all operating after the ball,” mentioned Eduardo Estrada, a 53-year-old flower vendor in Mexico Metropolis. “That’s why they name the league ‘the cemetery of the celebrities.’ Gamers simply go there for the cash.”

Commentators spent hours of airtime dissecting Hernández’s phrase selection — “legend” — and its legitimacy. Others continued a perpetual debate about his résumé (127 targets in Europe and 52 for Mexico), his enjoying fashion (an unintentional scorer, reasonably than a pure one) and his soccer pedigree (he’s the son of a former Mexican professional and the grandson of one other).

However Hugo Sánchez, who additionally had an illustrious European profession and remains to be thought of one of the best Mexican participant of all time, mentioned that, in Hernández’s case, the title “legend” was justified.

“Javier performed in one of the best golf equipment in Europe and may do and say no matter he needs,” Sánchez mentioned in a phone interview.

Hernández is a grasp at taking pictures with quick, good reactions. He has scored targets with the again of his head, stumbling and pushing the ball together with his face, and together with his again. His fashion could also be unconventional — his critics name it stiff, even clumsy — however it’s efficient.

Hernández has lengthy been totally different from most Mexican gamers off the sector as nicely. He has at all times been extra comfy talking English than his teammates, which has helped carry his confidence overseas. He broke the mould of earlier Mexican soccer stars, who largely got here from modest means and typically struggled to specific themselves as absolutely as Hernández did.

For the Mexican novelist Antonio Ortuño, who can also be from Guadalajara, the efforts to decrease Hernández are simply the newest instance of the fickle nature of public opinion within the nation.

“We don’t like success that a lot, and with Chicharito you may see that very clearly,” Ortuño mentioned. “He has been essentially the most constant participant over the previous 10 years — he has performed with one of the best European groups — and even then, he isn’t cherished.”

Ortuño mentioned that when Sánchez was dazzling the world as a star ahead with Actual Madrid within the 1980s, he was disparaged in Mexico as useless.

Sánchez mentioned he by no means let his countrymen’s opinions have an effect on him.

“Once I was in Europe, all of the feedback had been out of jealousy and envy, which may be very human, however I didn’t care,” he mentioned. “Quite the opposite, it was motivation.”

A part of the issue, he mentioned, is that Mexican followers will at all times see enjoying in the US as inferior to enjoying in Mexico. For Cuauhtémoc Blanco, one other of Mexico’s greatest stars who headed to M.L.S. as he neared the tip of his profession, the choice was tough due to perceptions in his homeland that the US is the place careers go to die.

“Everybody instructed me that I had gone there to retire,” mentioned Blanco, who joined the Chicago Fireplace in 2007, “however I nonetheless got here again and performed the World Cup in 2010, and a number of other years extra.”

Hernández, like Sánchez and Blanco, disregarded the criticism from Mexicans about his resolution. However in an interview with Fox Sports, he clarified his feedback about utilizing the phrase “retirement,” saying he nonetheless had a lot left to provide.

“A phrase is a phrase, and why do you are taking it within the destructive excessive?” he mentioned. “There’s lots of optimistic extremes, too. Think about if I made a decision to go to Mexico, and if I say the identical phrase. Liga MX will not be like a retirement league in Latin America, proper? So it’s simply — I’m near it.

“The factor is, while you say one thing, individuals have a really skinny pores and skin, so it’s good to overexplain, overexplain, overexplain. It’s like onions: It’s important to take all of them, all of the layers to allow them to perceive.

“This isn’t a league of retirement. That’s why I got here.”

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