When Mexico announced its preliminary roster in October for the 2022 World Cup, there was a glaring omission, albeit not a surprise. Javier "Chicharito" Hernández, Mexico's all-time leading goal scorer, would not be on the plane heading for Qatar. And it had nothing to do with actual soccer.
If you’re trying to make sense of it, don’t.
Since arriving in Major League Soccer, Hernández has been one of the most consistent players in what he does best — scoring goals. His first season in 2020 was a tumultuous one as he navigated personal issues that admittedly had an affect on his performances. He bounced back and scored 17 goals in the following season, falling just two short of the Golden Boot winner, and that was even after missing an extended period of time due to injury.
This year he scored 18 and led the LA Galaxy to a fourth-place finish in the Western Conference, the franchise’s best since 2016.
Playing in L.A. also serves as a reminder to Chicharito of how much the Mexicans love him. Even rival LAFC fans put club rooting interests aside when hoping to sneak a picture or autograph. His status as a Mexican legend is etched in stone.
Yet, ask disgruntled head coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino about Hernández and he will tell you that he has simply decided to go with other strikers.
Rogelio Funes Mori, Alexis Vega, Henry Martin and Jesús Corona are some of the players he chooses instead. Corona, however, is still injured after fracturing his fibula over the summer as is Raul Jimenez. Martino waited until the last minute for Corona’s injuries to heal before deciding if he would join the team in Qatar, but ultimately left him off the roster. Jimenez did join the team for the tourney, but didn't start for El Tri in their opener versus Poland on Tuesday.
But through qualifying and friendlies, it was clear El Tri's biggest area of concern is in the final third. Chance creation and scoring has been a headache, and also a large talking point when you fail to give someone so iconic to a country a chance to help.
Whatever internal spat Tata has with Chicharito, it was the coach’s pride and stubbornness that kept him off the list. Hernández, unlike his Los Angeles counterpart Carlos Vela, still had hopes of donning the El Tri jersey despite the omission for Mexico's initial roster announcement.
He even joined an Instagram live with popular Mexican Formula 1 driver Sergio “Checo” Pérez and alluded to that once again. Checo jokingly asked Chicharito, “when are you heading to the World Cup?”
Hernandez laughed in response: “That doesn’t depend on me, you know that. I have my bags ready but you know that isn’t under my control. I did everything possible.”
Checo replied with what many, besides the decision-makers at the Mexican Football Federation, feel: “You deserve it more than anybody.”
Let’s make this clear, Chicharito wouldn't magically fix any issues for El Tri. It’s more about the disrespect and erasure of a player of his caliber. One that has played on huge stages around the world throughout his decorated career.
When Mexico opened its tournament Tuesday against Poland, Chicharito was watching from afar instead of being able to have a chance at helping.
And you better believe that at the slightest moments of distress from fans, Chicharito’s name will be at the forefront of many conversations. Poland has a world-class striker in Robert Lewandowski. Argentina has a guy named Lionel Messi, among other massive stars like Ángel Di María, Lautaro Martínez and Paulo Dybala.
A 34-year-old striker that has played at clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid would’ve looked good in that group. Especially a player that is known for being one of the most dynamic in the game due to his movements in the final third.
That ship has sailed for Hernandez in what would’ve likely been his final World Cup.
Regardless of the situation, Chicharito will be cheering for Mexico to hopefully make a run with whoever is on the field.
And Mexico will be rooting for him, as always, just in a totally different way.