clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Javier Hernández's greatest goal shows he had to leave Manchester United

New, comments

Though Javier Hernández has scored plenty of goals, only one of them stands as the greatest goal of all time. And it demonstrates exactly why he had to leave Manchester United.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Javier Hernández is gone, and that's probably best for everybody. There are some footballers that are able to thrive in an environment in which they're not particularly wanted, that take strength from having to show that bastard manager exactly why he's a fool. But Hernández isn't one of them: he needs an arm around the shoulder, and maybe the occasional head ruffle. It was noticeable and telling that as soon as he arrived at Bayer Leverkusen, he was talking about needing to feel the love again:

I want to go back to feeling important and happy. I want to find happiness. Bayer made me feel important and loved and coming here was not a difficult decision to make. They made me feel wanted.

Louis van Gaal didn't love him. After he missed that penalty against Club Brugge, Louis van Gaal couldn't even look at him. Still, there was a decent United player in there once, who scored some important goals, scored some amusing goals, and who once scored arguably the greatest goal of all time.

Wait. Hang on. That's not actually true, obviously. The greatest goal of all time is and always will be Frank Worthington's sorcerous flick over his own head — and the entire Ipswich defence — for Bolton Wanderers. This one.

But beyond that, the argument fragments out. Is a long shot better than a beautifully worked team goal? And are either of them better than an own goal off the face? The only way to cope is to split the thing up by genre, like the Academy Awards. "And the Oscar for the best straightforward slotted finish that just so happens to follow Steven Gerrard slipping to the ground goes to ..."

This drum has been banging over on SB Nation's main soccer site for a while, but this feels like an opportune moment to bring it here; yes, perhaps it makes a mockery of the question, but it's a silly question anyway. Hernández may not be the man to score the delicate chip or the thundering piledriver, but he's done something that nobody else has, and he did it wearing a Manchester United shirt. We're talking, of course, about the back-header against Stoke. A goal that was amazing then, and proves exactly why he needed to leave now.

It's not a pretty thing, requiring as it does Hernández to arch his body and grimace like he's been electrocuted. It's not something that you'd slow down and show to young footballers, that you'd ever be able to coach. And it's probably not something that Hernández will ever do again, because why would he? It's not sensible. Shall I knock this one in with the back of my head? No. That's a stupid idea.

Which is what makes it so great. It's not just a piece of improvisation; it's a piece of creation. He's got a fraction of a second to invent an entirely new heading technique, one that entirely contravenes the first principle of ball sports — "watch the ball" — and one that is, fundamentally, a really terrible idea. To have the imagination to think it and the audacity to try it is admirable enough; to have the ability to pull it off is beyond ridiculous.

It's no  fluke; this isn't just an aerial reimagining of that time he kicked the ball into his own face. You can see that from his movement across the line of the ball, the better to manufacture the angle; you can see that from his eyes as he lands and spins around to stare at precisely where he intended to put the ball. Which is, of course, exactly where it went. "The Oscar for the greatest intentional flying back-header goes to ..."

Ultimately and importantly, it's a goal that could only be scored by a player bubbling with confidence and freedom. If an unloved Hernández has the idea at all, then he misses the ball and puts his back out. And so this goal stands not just as testament to what Hernández can do when he's in the right frame of mind, but as another example of the gifts of the man who put him there. Whatever you make of him as a human being, Alex Ferguson was quite the manager.

Different kinds of footballers require different kinds of motivations, and a significant part of Ferguson's genius lay in finding that kind of motivation, then becoming that sort of motivator. He would tailor himself to each player and become the right kind of authority figure, whether they needed a strict disciplinarian, a provocateur, or — like Hernández — an avuncular back-patter. It didn't work all the time, of course, but he nailed it more often than not.

It seems fair to suggest that from his time at United and his spells elsewhere, Van Gaal doesn't have quite the same knack for adaptation, that his is a less flexible style, a tougher love. So it seems fair to conclude that Hernández, while he might have been a useful option from the United bench, was never going to find himself in the frame of mind that leads to these most Hernández-like of goals. And as such, keeping him would have been frankly unfair. After all, if you've got a Hernández sitting around, it's only right that he's in the mood for the occasional flying back-header. Otherwise it's just a waste.