Seven years after making the move from Chivas to Manchester United, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez (No. 70 in the ESPN World Fame 100 rankings) remains the face of Mexican football around the globe.
The Bayer Leverkusen striker whose 29th birthday is June 1 is now in his prime and carving out a career that will go down as one of Mexico's best, up there behind former Real Madrid legend Hugo Sanchez and Barcelona great Rafa Marquez.
By his own high standards, the 2016-17 season hasn't been the greatest for Hernandez, with 11 goals in 26 Bundesliga games, but he did match Jared Borgetti as Mexico's highest goal scorer in March when he netted for El Tri against Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying to make it 46 goals for the national team. His goal against Croatia this past Saturday moved him ahead of Borgetti to secure his place in the history books, and you wouldn't bet against him breaking the 50-goal mark at some point this summer.
Hernandez has moved from giant Manchester United to superclub Real Madrid and then on to Leverkusen, but he hasn't been able to shake off all the doubters. At this point in his career, however, you know what to expect with Hernandez. There may be the odd goal drought here and there, but there are few strikers you'd prefer to have around when the ball is loose in the penalty area. It wasn't entirely surprising to hear Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho state recently that the Red Devils should've held on to "Little Pea" and that if they had Hernandez would've scored 20 goals this season.
Chicharito has netted goals in the UEFA Champions League at a rate of one every 205 minutes. He has scored every 142 minutes in the Bundesliga, every 123 minutes in La Liga for Real Madrid and every 130 minutes in the Premier League during his time with Manchester United. The Guadalajara native has been asked to prove himself time and again in different leagues with different clubs. And he has responded on each occasion.
But it is the development of his all-around game since he set sail from Chivas in the summer of 2010 that has gone relatively unheralded. Hernandez is a hard worker, a key cog in his team's press and is much better with his back to the goal and involving teammates in plays than he used to be. He has become a more rounded striker, even if Hernandez's principle attribute is still his sharpness and movement in the final third of the pitch.
Off the field, relationships have made headlines for the wrong reasons in Mexico, and that boy-next-door image has been slightly tarnished with what has at times been a less-than-smooth bond with the domestic press. But everyone still wants to speak to him, and he has become something of an informal ambassador for Mexico.
Hernandez is still ahead of Saul "Canelo" Alvarez as the most written-about sports star in Mexico, and this summer there is once again speculation about where he could end up next. With just one year left on his contract with Bayer Leverkusen and the Bundesliga team not in the Champions League, the rumors are in overdrive. Will Leverkusen want to cash in while Hernandez still has a contract, and can they therefore recoup a transfer fee?
The truth is that Hernandez would have plenty of suitors all over Europe's top leagues, but the link with MLS refuses to go away. In February, a report on ESPN FC suggested negotiations were already underway to bring Hernandez to the United States. It seems almost an inevitability that Hernandez will end up in MLS sooner or later, although 2018 appears more likely than this summer.
Hernandez's immediate future is with the Mexican national team. El Tri has upcoming qualifiers against Honduras and the United States, followed by a trip to Russia for the Confederations Cup. That will be a chance for Hernandez and the rest of his Mexico teammates to perhaps continue to banish the memory of that 7-0 defeat to Chile at last summer's Copa America Centenario. He said that loss "hurt Mexico's soul" at the time.
Hernandez's father and grandfather (on his mother's side) both featured at international level for Mexico, and Hernandez's No. 1 goal in what remains of his career is to win the World Cup. While that may seem like a distant dream, it does give an indication that Hernandez still retains lofty ambitions, and the next couple of years may be his best yet.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.