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Liga MX 2018 Apertura: What you need to know before kickoff

Liga MX

Juan Carlos Osorio has to choose: Mexico, U.S. or Europe?

 By Tom Marshall

Chicharito has two bosses to impress

Smiling, laughing and prancing about in training sessions with the same childlike enthusiasm you imagine he had as a 10-year-old in Guadalajara, there is nothing outwardly untoward about Mexico striker Javier Hernandez.

A natural in public relations and someone who genuinely comes across as one of football's nice guys, Hernandez rarely lets his mask slip and reveal what is really going on inside. But after scoring El Tri's third goal against Croatia on Monday, that mask did slip, the tears spilled out and the darker emotions of what has clearly been a testing time for the 26-year-old were revealed.

"They were tears of happiness, thinking of the people who have unquestioningly trusted in me this year," he said after the match in widely published quotes. "This has been a year in which few have trusted in me and they were tears to connect me with my people, with those that have surrounded me and love me."

It can't have been easy for such a prominent figure and Mexico's most recognizable player to endure this past season.

For his club Manchester United, Hernandez got less Premier League playing time than in any other season since he joined in 2010. In each of his four seasons at Old Trafford, he has seen less time on the field than the previous one in England's top division.

For Mexico, it was practically unthinkable that he would not be a starter this World Cup even one year ago. The fact he moved clear as Mexico's third-highest scorer with Monday's goal only emphasizes what a huge impact he has had on the national team since becoming a regular squad member just ahead of South Africa 2010.

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Hernandez has, however, made it patently clear he's not happy to be seen as a "super-sub."

"I've never seen myself as a substitute, and I don't like being one," he said ahead of Mexico's first match of the World Cup. "I'm tired of a lot of people seeing me that way, as a super-sub.

"I'm a player that has made most difference as a starter."

For a player with a big ego, the rejection for club and country would've been too much, but Hernandez seems to have reacted by digging deep to find the determination to prove people wrong in his own way. And he's still talking in a positive way about his teammates and the rest of the squad.

"My goal tells me that I'm on track ... but more than anything, we are fortunate to play football," he said after the Croatia match. "If the trainer wants me to go on [off the bench], I'll do it, because that's what I'm prepared for."

There's a parallel between what Chicharito has gone through this season compared to when he was a youngster at Chivas. In Guadalajara, Hernandez made his scoring debut on Sept. 9, 2006, as the fresh-faced 18-year-old grandson of club legend Tomas Balcazar. A bright future was predicted, but he was erased from the first-team picture shortly after, leading the player to seriously question whether he had a future in the game.

It wasn't until midway through 2009 that he really nailed down a starting spot for Chivas.

It had been more than a year since Chicharito had scored for Mexico before his goal against Croatia.

On Sunday, Hernandez is likely to be on the bench once again, despite his goal, his good performance and Giovani dos Santos not being at his best against Croatia.

In the opposite dugout will be his new Manchester United boss, Louis van Gaal, and in front of him on the pitch will be Robin van Persie, the player whose signing undoubtedly condemned Chicharito to fewer minutes in the red shirt.

The relationship between Van Gaal and Van Persie is famously strong, with the player captaining the Netherlands and even accompanying his manager on scouting trips when he was injured toward the end of last season.

The situation for Hernandez does look ominous at Old Trafford next season, especially if he is so tired of the substitute role that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer plugged away in for so many years.

And it has to be remembered that Chicharito has been asked about his United future in every mixed zone he's entered for weeks. He's rejected every enquiry, simply saying he is a Mexico player for the time being. That implicitly suggests that his future is up in the air. He'll likely need reassurances if he is to stay in Manchester.

The meticulous Van Gaal will already know all about Hernandez, but a gentle reminder on Sunday of exactly why he's still a sought-after commodity in Europe, despite being benched for both club and country, would do him -- and Mexico -- no harm at all.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.