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Has Louis van Gaal Given Chicharito A Second Chance, Or A Stay of Execution?

It’s been a tumultuous few months for Javier Hernandez. At the turn of the year, Chicharito was on bench-warming duties at the Santiago Bernabau, seemingly unwanted by both his new employers in the Spanish capital as well as his paymasters back in Manchester. Then came a run of six starts in which he scored four goals and laid on three more for Real Madrid, including the winner against city rivals Atleti in the Champions League quarter-finals. Suddenly all the talk was of a permanent move to Los Blancos.

But the deadline for Madrid to make Chicharito’s move permanent came and went, and Hernandez, figuratively at least, drifted back from whence he came. Throw in a broken collarbone prior to the start of the Gold Cup, and the Mexican’s future was looking about as clear as Bill Cosby’s conscience.

This weekend, however, threw a ray of light into the darkness that’s enveloped Hernandez’s off-season to-date: no less a source than – the Red Devils’ official website – reported that Javier Hernandez “could have a role to play at United in 2015/16”. They ran with quotes from Louis van Gaal in which the Iron Tulip declared that Chicharito will join United’s pre-season tour on July 25th, adding: “he can prove himself again, and now Falcao and van Persie are gone, so his chances are better.”

But is this a second chance, or merely a stay of execution? After all, Chicharito was heavily involved in United’s pre-season tour of America last summer, appearing in four of their five Stateside fixtures. He also started United’s first Premier League game of 2014-15 against Swansea, as well as their League Cup loss to MK Dons. None of which stopped van Gaal signing Radamel Falcao in the dying hours of the transfer window and shipping a forlorn-looking Chicharito off to the Santiago Bernabau.

Is it really conceivable that United will head into the new season with just Wayne Rooney, Hernandez and 19-year-old James Wilson as their recognized strikers? Van Gaal has been coy on whether or not the Red Devils will go shopping for another striker this summer, saying, in almost the same breath, that he is happy with his current options but may yet bring a "surprise" signing to Old Trafford. The extent to which the Dutchman is having his fun with the world's media is key to how many opportunities will be afforded Chicharito next season. 

While the papers have run amock with increasingly outlandish suggestions for who van Gaal's surprise signing may be, there are two factors that suggest United fans should indeed dust off their comedy sombreros. The first is that van Gaal has already turned down an opportunity to cash in on Hernandez: West Ham bid in the region of $13 million for the striker last week and were politely told where to go. Given Chicharito has just one year remaining on his contract, we suspect the deal wasn’t rejected on the basis of the money being proffered.

The second, longer-term argument for believing in a Hernandez revival is van Gaal’s stated preference for a 4-3-3 formation this season, playing with a solitary striker. If that't the case, he could indeed be happy to have just three out-and-out goal-scorers in his arsenal. And while that lone man will be Wayne Rooney when fit, the United captain’s positional flexibility likely means that Chicharito will find himself handed opportunities whenever an injury strikes the likes of Memphis Depay, Juan Mata or indeed Pedro, if the Barca striker moves to Manchester this summer.

Is it the perfect scenario for Chicharito? By no means. The 27-year-old is not a natural in the lone role; his hold-up play is average at best. But if James Wilson was indeed the only other striker available to van Gaal through a 2015/16 campaign that all inside Old Trafford expect to include an extended run in the Champions League, Javier Hernandez will be afforded plenty of opportunities to remind van Gaal of his goal-getting abilities.

And as we all know: when Chicharito starts, he scores.

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