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Do the U.S. and Mexico care about the Gold Cup anymore?

Gold Cup
 By Tom Marshall

Chicharito transfer choice is more important than his Gold Cup

At some point in the next 12 to 18 months, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez is likely to draw level and surpass Jared Borgetti as Mexico's all-time top goal-scorer.

The Manchester United striker -- for that is what he still is at this time -- needs just eight more goals to move above Borgetti's 46 and if he keeps up his ratio of more than a goal every two games for El Tri, he'll be there around his 28th birthday next June. If this summer's Gold Cup goes particularly well for the former Chivas striker, the record could even come before then.

But while his international record points to a career in full flow, Hernandez is in the middle of a second summer with doubts hanging over both his starting place for Mexico and his club future.

This time last year, Hernandez was employed in the super-sub role he so despises at the World Cup for Mexico before sealing a shock move to the 2013-14 Champion League winners Real Madrid. It was a summer of contrasts, with a bit-part role at a major tournament a huge blow for Hernandez, sweetened by a move to a club no player can realistically turn down.

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Unfortunately for him, despite seven La Liga goals at the rate of one every 123 minutes, the two-time Premier League champion left with another coach, this time Carlo Ancelotti, deeming him to be a back-up sub to be used when required off the bench.

There was that memorable winner in the quarterfinal of the Champions League against Atletico Madrid, but not a whole lot else to shout about from Hernandez, who had previously been used less and less by Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United; relegated by David Moyes; ousted by Louis van Gaal; and even sidelined by Mexico coach Miguel Herrera.

Still, his Real Madrid stint was experience in the bank, although going to such a club should be a lesson for a 27-year-old who, in order to cement his place as one of the country's best-ever strikers and lose his super-sub tag, now needs to be both a regular starter and scorer at club level.

The priorities last year were: 1) Realistic chance of minutes 2) Champions League playing squad 3) One of the top three leagues: England, Spain or Germany.

Those goalposts have moved ever so slightly 12 months down the line. The realistic chances of minutes must now be more of a guarantee. If a club isn't in the Champions League but is still strong, it wouldn't be the end of the world, and if Hernandez signed for a top team from France or Italy, it would hardly be a cause to complain.

Mexico forward Chicharito Hernandez will likely have no shortage of suitors should he not remain with Real Madrid.
Chicharito needs to find consistency on the pitch.

In interviews over the past month, Hernandez's agent Eduardo Hernandez has stated that clubs in Italy, Greece, Germany, Spain, England, the United States and Turkey have all made offers. But then there was never going to be a shortage of interest for a player who has become both the face and the most positive image globally of the Mexican game.

Hernandez himself has remained tight-lipped so far, enjoying his break after his loaner time with Real Madrid. Manchester United, where he has just one year left on his contract, will be his destination should no transfer be arranged, but that seems unlikely given the interest. 

Underneath the calm façade, however, he'll know that making the right choice while preparing for Gold Cup group games -- against Cuba, Guatemala and Trinidad & Tobago -- won't be easy, but is vital for securing his rightful place in the top echelons in the history-books of the Mexican game. And with El Tri, he's already involved in a battle for the start, with Carlos Vela, Giovani Dos Santos and Oribe Peralta all vying for the two striker roles in Miguel Herrera's 5-3-2 formation.

It would be a blow for Hernandez not to accompany Vela up front this summer and edge close to Borgetti's record, but his most important priority ahead of the new season in Europe is finally finding a club that fits, will give him regular starts, and shed the increasingly indelible image of "Chicharito" sitting on the bench patiently waiting for a moment that has arrived with decreasing frequency over the last few years.

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


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