How good can Chicharito be? 

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
10:12
AM ET

TORREON, Mexico -- What a surprise it must have been to the passengers of Aeromexico Flight 2076 from Mexico City to Torreon on Sunday to see Javier Hernandez sitting in the middle of their plane smiling and joking with the rest of his teammates. The first shock after an initial double take was that it was, in fact, the man called Chicharito, and the second unexpected stroke of luck for fans was that Chicharito was sitting among the regular people. Yup, Chicharito and the Mexican national team were in coach.

Before the flight, during the flight, after the flight, during the time the drink cart was out, even when there was some mild turbulence, passengers and flight crew members approached Chicharito and asked for an autograph. The boldest fans asked him to pose for a photo. Not once did Hernandez refuse, not even when he exited the plane and found himself bombarded with photo and autograph requests from the ground crew at the Torreon airport. Hernandez smiled at the camera and then scribbled on pieces of paper, jerseys and whatever else fans could find on short notice.

There's no question that Hernandez is a gifted athlete, but now that the hype of his sensational Premiership debut has died down, the question becomes: Just how good can Chicharito be?

Friendly displays like these make it almost impossible for the Chicharito phenomenon to subside. In just one magical season last year with Manchester United, when he scored a surprising 20 goals, Hernandez established himself as Mexico's most popular footballer of the moment, and possibly of all time. Even the peak of his popularity, Mexican legend Hugo Sanchez was never truly considered a fan favorite because of his often difficult demeanor. There were Sanchez haters just as there were Sanchez worshippers, and hardly anyone can claim now that among Mexican fans there are any anti-Chicharito sentiments.

Though Chicharito's demeanor is part of the mystique, it's his talent that's made him internationally known. During Brazil's press conference Monday in anticipation of Tuesday's match, the mohawked Neymar referred to Hernandez as a "crack," an affectionate term used by footballers to describe one of their talented own. There's no question that Hernandez is a gifted athlete, but now that the hype of his sensational Premiership debut has died down, the question becomes: Just how good can Chicharito be?

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