Chicharito stay would be a win-win for Real Madrid
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez grabbed the headlines after Real Madrid's victory at Balaidos on Sunday night, scoring twice in a hard-fought 4-2 triumph that kept the side's title hopes alive. At just the right time from the point of view of both player and club, Chicharito has gained a position of importance within the team. Real's plans for Chicharito remain vague -- "at the end of the season" is manager Carlo Ancelotti's mantra -- but a striker signed on loan for a €2.5 million fee and a contribution of €3 million towards his salary has eventually repaid some of that investment.
Not that Chicharito can be blamed for his relatively small contribution to date. Even Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi can't score from the bench. What the Mexican has achieved is exactly what coaches admire most in a fringe player: when he was needed, Chicharito delivered. The winning goal in the Champions League quarterfinal defeat of Atletico and a brace that aided Real's dogged pursuit of Barcelona in La Liga is not a bad week's work by anybody's standards. Whether it is enough for the 26-year-old to have earned an extended stay at the Bernabeu depends on several factors. The player will have a couple more chances to stake his claim in the coming days, against Almeria, and in all likelihood, versus Sevilla. Karim Benzema is expected to be fit for the first leg of the Champions League tie against Juventus on May 5 and Chicharito can fully expect to be back on the bench for that game.
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That was a position that was not to the liking of Alvaro Morata, the youth team prodigy who featured in 34 games last season under Ancelotti, scoring eight times in the league. The majority of those came in a flurry at the end of the campaign and all from the bench: in the final eight games Morata scored five in a total of 63 minutes, a quite phenomenal strike rate even if the opposition was not of the highest calibre. Even so, it was not sufficient to launch his Bernabeu career. Real sold their cantera product to Juventus for €20 million and Morata was happy to go. Hernandez was brought in as a direct result of that deal: a super-sub to replace a super-sub.
With the end of the season approaching, Ancelotti has some tough decisions to make regarding his front line. Benzema has proven himself worthy of the favoured status afforded to him by club president Florentino Perez, and the Frenchman's performances over the past couple of seasons ensure that when he is fit, he is going to start. Even want-away PSG striker Edinson Cavani, or another player of that stature, knows that Benzema's place is not there for the taking. That's why Real haven't, and won't, try to sign an established, bona fide, upwards of €50 million 20-to-30-goal-a-season striker. They don't need one.
Whoever plays the role of back-up to Benzema knows what to expect. As Chicharito noted a few weeks ago while bemoaning his lack of opportunities: "I knew I was signing for Real Madrid." He will also have spotted then that Benzema isn't hugely injury-prone and is one of the finest all-round forwards in the world, with a European goal record of 31 in 55 games for the club and just shy of one every two games in the league since he signed at the Bernabeu, in addition to 85 assists in all competitions. Take into account a fairly low-key first season in Madrid and you don't get dropped for returns like that. Morata decided not to bide his time but secured a move to a club of similar status. In all likelihood, Chicharito will not be as fortunate.
The Bernabeu board wisely inserted a buy-back clause in Morata's Juve contract; €30 million this summer, or €36 million the next. The snag is that Morata has also been very vocal in the press and has had little positive to say about his former club. A return seems very unlikely indeed, which is Real's loss but Chicharito's gain. Players come and go, transfers either work out or they don't, but there must surely be a pang of regret around the big table that a homegrown fan favourite is excelling for a team that will be a direct rival in a week's time. Chicharito is the sort of player who invites cult status and he has been saying all the right things in the wake of his international break outburst.
Jese is in a similar situation to Morata. Also 22, Jese has not regained the sort of status at the club he enjoyed last season after returning from a lengthy injury lay-off and reports abound that he will seek an exit in the summer. Real will not want to lose another Castilla graduate and Ancelotti has said the player is going nowhere, but the simple fact is that at Jese's age playing time is the driving force behind such decisions. If no assurances are made at the Bernabeu, he will likely seek them elsewhere, as Morata did.
Chicharito will be 27 by the time his loan deal at the Bernabeu expires and he's spent most of his senior career in Europe on the bench. Ninety-nine percent of footballers will publicly claim the opposite, but the fact is that if Chicharito genuinely craved 90 minutes each weekend, he'd be at Swansea, West Ham or Villa by now. It's not unfair to suggest that the crest on his tracksuit means as much to the striker as anything else. Reportedly, the Mexican has told his advisors to say yes to whatever Real are offering and Manchester United are willing to sell for €10 million.
From Real's point of view a permanent deal for Chicharito suddenly looks a lot more attractive than it did a week ago; with Morata turning his back on the Bernabeu and Jese apparently keen to follow suit, the Mexico striker is in the driving seat to cement his place in the club's plans for next season and Real can dictate the terms. That mirrors Chicharito's recent influence on results: win-win.
Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.