Manero

A Mexican Soap

By: Alfonso Duro

After the end of the Brazil World Cup, Mexico’s brand was surprisingly at the forefront of global soccer. Miguel Herrera’s team had a tough time making it to the tournament but, once there, the boys did their part—and some actually stole headlines all over the planet. Ochoa, Marquez, Dos Santos or Peralta were among the top players in El Tri; however, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and Raúl Jiménez were not. Surprisingly, though, the two strikers signed huge deals with the two finalists of last year’s Champions League, and have been enjoying nothing short of a roller coaster ride since.

A YOUNG MADRIDISTA PLAYING FOR ATLÉTICO? Atlético Madrid was looking for a “killer” who would take over for Diego Costa, as he moved to Chelsea... but decided to hire three. Mandžukic brought the experience, Griezmann the speed and knowledge of La Liga, and Raúl Jiménez was the young buck Simeone wanted to shape into the next Falcao or (better yet) the second coming of Hugo Sánchez. But the Mexican arrived with a huge handicap: he was a publicly confessed Madridista. Jiménez spent the whole Champions League final tweeting in favor of Real Madrid, fully unaware that just months later he would be suiting up for their rivals that night. Because of this, fans did not approve of the signing at first, but gave him the benefit of the doubt once he arrived and showed his best intentions. His bumpy ride with the Colchoneros was just starting.

THE UNWANTED MAN. Chicharito’s love-hate relationship with Real Madrid started off on the wrong foot. Real Madrid had contacted Luis Suárez, Radamel Falcao and Immobile during the summer, but finally settled for a last-minute loan of Manchester United’s second-string forward. Being used to multimillion dollar arrivals of the likes of Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez or Isco Alarcon, Javier Hernández’s transfer didn’t seem like much—a perception that was heightened by the fact that it was confirmed just days after Di María and Xabi Alonso left the team. The jokes didn’t take too long to start sprawling all over the Net, and only the Mexican’s unwavering positive attitude in his first days in Spain gave fans and pundits a glimmer of hope about the outcome of the Merengue’s signing.

A STADIUM GROWS IMPATIENT. Rojiblanco fans were quick to choose favorites in the start of the season. Antoine Griezmann joined the select group of beloved attackers, formed by Raúl García, Arda Turan and Koke Resurrección, while Raúl Jiménez ranked very much lower in the “support scale” at Calderón stadium. It seemed the only one who truly trusted the Mexican was Diego Simeone, who defended him even in the striker’s darkest hour. The Colchoneros didn’t quite understand why the Argentine manager would give so much free range to Jiménez, something he hadn’t done in previous years with other young talent like Adrian or Baptistão. Then again, in the last few seasons he had Falcao and Costa to cling to, while now he needs to make do with what he’s got at hand.

CHICHARITO RISING. And when people least expected it, Javier Hernández brought the house down with two impressive goals against Deportivo de La Coruña. It was in his third game with the Merengues (or third bit of a game, to be precise) when the Mexican unleashed his devastating striking skills to put two past Argentine goalkeeper Germán Lux. As newspapers are used to doing in Spain, their outlook on the loan of Chicharito immediately changed. All pundits were quick to acknowledge his finely tailored finishing abilities, and how they have, without a doubt, had been showcased during his years at Manchester United. Yeah, right.

THE UPS AND DOWNS CONTINUE. Just a week ago, it all seemed doomed for Raúl Jiménez at Atlético, while Chicharito was flying high with Real Madrid. So much so that the press gave the former Red Devil many headlines announcing his first start for the Merengues against Elche. Jiménez, on the other hand, was clearly not going to play a big role in the Colchoneros’ upcoming matches. But the week went by and there was no big change in their situations—the Madridista played 10 minutes at the end of the 5-1 victory against Elche and Raúl didn’t even get any action against Almería). Three days later, another twist: Chicharito was an unused sub against Villarreal, and Jimenez made the best of his 20 minutes against Sevilla to close the 4-0 victory at Calderón with his first goal as Rojiblanco. All his critics seem to be presently hiding under a rock and many are now even praising his adaptability to Simeone’s style. Meanwhile, none of the sweet words that reached Chicharito’s ears after his goals in La Coruña are being spoken anymore. He is, again, a forgotten soul around Bernabéu.

This is the reality of the volatile European soccer main stage, and Jiménez better get used to it quickly. If need be, Chicharito can give him a few tips on how to handle it. He’s a veteran on it by now.

Alfonso Duro is a Spanish freelance writer. When he's not managing Google's agency in the United Arab Emirates (his current job), chances are he's watching and writing about soccer.