Chicharito, Carlos Vela and the New Golden Era of Mexican Football

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Chicharito, Carlos Vela and the New Golden Era of Mexican Football
David Cannon/Getty Images

On June 17, 2010, Javier Hernandez—more commonly known to the world as Chicharito—took a perfectly placed pass from Rafael Marquez and, as he has so many times since, found the back of the net with beautiful precision. It was his first World Cup goal, and he scored it against France.

When the ball crossed the goal line, Chicharito became the third generation of his family to have scored for the Mexican national team. His maternal grandfather, Tomas Balcazar, scored in the 1954 World Cup, also against France. Hernandez’s father, Javier Hernandez Gutierrez, or Chicharo, scored four goals for Mexico between 1983 and 1994.

After his outstanding World Cup performance, Chicharito gave an even more startling debut season as a Red Devil. In the 2010-11 campaign, Hernandez scored 20 goals across all competitions for Manchester United, helping them win the EPL title and work their way to the Champions League final.

At the international level, the Mexican striker has scored 15 goals for his country, including a hat trick against El Salvador on June 5, 2011. Chicharito is, without doubt, his country’s favorite son right now, and maybe the most famous Mexican footballer of all time.

Maybe. Because Mexico teammate Rafael Marquez, who threaded the ball so beautifully to Chicharito at the 2010 World Cup, won four La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey, three Super Copa de Espanas, one FIFA Club World Cup, one UEFA Super Cup and two Champions League titles with Barcelona.

Marquez proved instrumental to Barcelona’s success in his years with the club as both a center back and a defensive midfielder. In 2006, became the first Mexican player to win the Champions League—not even Mexican legend Hugo Sanchez achieved this during his time with Real Madrid.  
 
All told, Marquez played 242 matches for Barcelona, more than any non-European player in the club’s history. In 2010, Rafa left Barcelona for the New York Red Bulls. Playing alongside Thierry Henry in New York, Marquez is one of best defenders in Major League Soccer in 2011, and one of the most well-known players in the league.

While Chicharito and Marquez are certainly the brightest lights of the Mexican national team as of 2011, they are hardly the only ones shining. A number of other Aztecs are out in the world, plying their trade and devolving their skill at club level.


Tricolor on the Rise


Carlos Vela
has suffered too many matches on the bench at Arsenal. He has the unfortunate circumstance of being stuck behind the likes of Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott in the pecking order. A loan deal to West Bromwich Albion gave him some much-needed time on the pitch, but only time will tell his future in the EPL.

Yet anyone who follows the Tricolor—so known for the three colors in the Mexican flag—knows just how good Vela can be. The 22-year-old plays equally as well from the wings as he does in a central striking position, and can also fill an attacking midfield role.

Vela’s versatility is often instrumental to the success of the Mexican side and sees Vela feeding crosses to Hernandez and others for the finish while drawing off defenders with his short, controlled dribble. What’s more, his ability to feed strikers and strike himself keeps defenders on their toes and adds an element of unpredictability to his arsenal.

Like a number of football’s great creative players, Vela’s contributions to the Aztecs cannot be measured in statistics. Seeing him play in the Tricolor jersey is the only way to truly appreciate his skills and contributions to the team.

In 2005, Vela led Mexico’s team to victory in the FIFA U-17 World Championship. He won the Golden Boot, finishing the tournament with five goals. On that team, he played alongside Giovani dos Santos, now with Tottenham Hotspur.

Dos Santos assisted half the goals Mexico scored during the U-17 tournament and earned the Silver Ball as the second best player. Manchester United’s Anderson won the Golden Ball.

On loan at Racing Santander during the second half of the 2010-11 season, dos Santos scored five goals in 16 matches and notched two assists. He scored a brace for Mexico against New Zealand on June 1, 2011.

The young striker has speed to match Chicharito’s and displays a deft ability to read games and make key passes. Like Vela, dos Santos plays equally as well from the wings as he does from a central position.

Elsewhere in London, Pablo Barrera signed to West Ham United during the summer 2010-11 transfer window. A central midfielder, Barrera barely saw playing time with the Hammers.

Yet Barrera is so highly rated in Mexico that he appeared on the cover of his country’s soccer bible, Futbol Total, in his Tricolor jersey alongside Chicharito, Mexican legend Cuauhtemoc Blanco and celebrity goalkeeper Memo Ochoa in the lead up to the 2010 World Cup.

With West Ham relegated and players like Scott Parker, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Mark Noble surely out the door, Barrera can gain the experience he needs to reach top form in the coming seasons.

A number of other talented Mexicans play throughout Europe’s top leagues. Left back Carlos Salcido put in 23 performances for Fullham during the 2010-11 campaign and previously played three seasons with Dutch side PSV. He is a fast, powerful, decisive defender.

Fellow Mexican defender Francisco Javier Rodríguez, another powerful, decisive player, joined PSV two years after Salcido and still plays for the team.

Defender Efrain Juarez currently plays for Celtic though may be on the move to La Liga during the summer 2011 transfer window. Goal.com reports that Real Zaragoza has expressed interest in the player, who is currently concentrating on getting Mexico through the CONCAFCAF Gold Cup tournament.

Midfielder Andres Guardado, instrumental in Mexico’s creative attack, plays for recently relegated La Liga side Deportivo de La Coruña, while midfielder Jonathan dos Santos, younger brother to Giovani, plays for Barcelona’s reserve side.

In Mexico’s domestic league, you’ll find players like America goalkeeper Memo Ochoa, one of the most popular and famous players in his country.  In December of 2010, Ochoa was linked with potential moves to Fullham, Arsenal and Manchester Untied, though all of these deals fell through. Still, expect Ochoa to be on many an EPL want lists this summer transfer window.

Monterrey striker Aldo de Nigris has scored three goals for the Aztecs since March of 2011, and Tirges midfielder Edgar Iván Pacheco and UANL left back Jorge Torres Nilo have both found the back of the net for El Tricolor in the past three weeks.


The Future of the Mexican National Team


The Aztecs have a number of important matches on the horizon. In the course of the next month, Mexico plays Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Peru and Uruguay. The last three matches will be the most challenging, and also the most telling.

If very young Mexicans such as Vela, Hernandez and Dos Santos can develop into a fluid unit under the guidance of seasoned, older players like Marquez, Salcido and midfielder Gerarod Torrado, it stands a chance of challenging sides like Uruguay, with its formidable striking triumvirate of Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, it can challenge the top teams in the world.

Only time will tell how this new golden generation of Mexican football will fare on the national stage. But with a core of players as talented as Chicharito, Vela, Dos Santos and Dos Santos, Guardado, Barrera and Torres Nilo all 25 or younger (Memo Ochoa turns 26 next month), and with leaders like Marquez, the Aztecs looked primed to be a truly formidable force in world football in the build up to the 2014 World Cup.

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