It's a signing that seems almost too perfect.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, the most recognizable Mexican player for over a decade, is now in Southern California having signed with the LA Galaxy and the marketing possibilities seem endless. The sight of Chicharito going up against compatriot Carlos Vela twice a year (at least) adds another layer of hype to the intra-city rivalry with LAFC. Now in the weeks between El Trafficos -- their first meeting is May 16 at Banc of California Stadium, the return game on Aug. 23 -- fans of the two teams will be keeping a running tally as to which player is contributing more. What's more, Galaxy fans will get a much-needed shot of adrenaline heading into the 2020 campaign.
"If you drop Hernandez in Southern California or anywhere in the western continental United States, it's massive mayhem," said ESPN television analyst Herculez Gomez, who suited up for the Galaxy as well as a series of Liga MX teams during his playing career. "He will be recognized. He's seen as a global star."
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That's why there is more than temptation to call the signing of Hernandez the biggest since David Beckham back in 2007. But that would require forgetting Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which -- let's face it -- is impossible. There's no ignoring the 53 goals he scored over two seasons, nor can one forget the endless stream of soundbites. The beauty of the Zlatan signing was that he gave people a reason to watch every week, whether it was for something he did on the field or said off it. All of which makes for a mighty vacuum that Hernandez is stepping into.
"Zlatan is his own animal," said Gomez. "You can't take away from the impact that Zlatan has on and off the field. Chicharito isn't going to go to the late-night [talk show] circuit. He's not going to be that guy for you."
Yet bringing in Hernandez wasn't a "swap" deal. Ibrahimovic left of his own accord, rejoining Milan in January, so the question for the Galaxy was how best to compensate for the Swede's departure. Hernandez fits the bill and then some. That's especially true on the marketing side and, like it or not, that's a clear factor in this kind of acquisition. The signing of Hernandez isn't just about making up for Ibrahimovic but about keeping up with LAFC, especially with Vela tearing up the league on his way to an MVP season in 2019.
"The LA Galaxy cannot afford not to have a superstar on their team," said David Carter, the executive director of the Marshall Sports Business Institute at USC. "They built their brand that way over the years, they've been known to be this destination. And now more than ever, they are really battling for shelf space in Los Angeles because of the way Vela has played, the way LAFC has advanced the last couple of years. The Galaxy is not playing in a shiny new stadium, so it was imperative for them to make a statement. This was as much of an offensive move as it was a defensive move."
Yet Carter is wary of the line of thinking that if you sign a star from a particular demographic, fans will immediately flock to games. That hasn't been true for MLS in the past and isn't likely to be now.
"I think that in terms of numbers and influence in the Southern California market, the Hispanic influence is dramatic," he said. "But it's not homogeneous in terms of what they're looking for. You know, if you had a team of 11 Chicharitos and they went out there and were winless, they weren't going to be supported. Oh, wait, we had that, that was called Chivas USA."
Hernandez's personality isn't controversial, per se, but he does serve as something of a lightning rod, especially when it comes to the sporting press south of the border. That trait remains intense given the uncertainty facing his international future, as well as the perception that he's "giving up" by moving to MLS. It's a different kind of attention than what Ibrahimovic drew, but it's attention nonetheless.
"Chicharito has got this weird sense of drama that always follows him around in a way where he's always in the news," added Gomez. "Why isn't he playing? Why isn't he starting? Why isn't he going to the national team? What's going on? He's the 'it' player and has been the 'it' player for the last decade."
That mantle appears to be in the process of being passed on given the European exploits of Napoli's Hirving "Chucky" Lozano and Wolverhampton's Raul Jimenez, though it's not complete just yet. But the question about just how effective a player Hernandez is remains.
The last time Hernandez hit double figures in goals was with Bayer Leverkusen during the 2016-17 season. That number is relevant because the success or failure of such a signing ultimately comes down to performance. Ibrahimovic and Vela delivered on a consistent basis; the likes of Rafa Marquez and Giovani dos Santos didn't, and the fans noticed.
Ibrahimovic was such a physical force that he could create goals on his own, whereas Hernandez is a classic poacher, relying on movement and guile to score. That recipe can certainly work in MLS -- San Jose Earthquakes stalwart Chris Wondolowski has been using that skill set with great effectiveness for the past 10 years, despite playing on some horrendous teams -- but Hernandez will be reliant on the service he gets from others. The likes of Cristian Pavon and Aleksandar Katai are certainly capable of being consistent providers for Chicharito, but it does make for an additional variable for success.
One area Hernandez will be a notable upgrade is in the locker room. Ibrahimovic was notoriously tough on teammates and his barbs had the effect in some cases of killing a player's confidence. In that respect, Hernandez is the anti-Zlatan, a player quick with a smile and one who historically has been vocal in support of teammates.
Ultimately, Hernandez will need to deliver goals. No amount of marketing hype can hide that fact. If he can, his signing may not be perfect, but it will come close.