Paul SakkalComment

CARLOS HERNANDEZ AND THE INTELLECTUAL SCALPEL

Paul SakkalComment

Ah, the glorious 1970's live on....

'Carloooooooooos Herrrrrrrrrrrnandez'. The PR system rung around Melbourne Victory’s AAMI Park as the introduction of Carlos Hernandez was announced to the home faithful in the biggest game of the season, a derby with cross-town rivals Melbourne Heart. 

The team sheet shocked every supporter who knew Hernandez, as he was left on the bench. Perplexing. Jim Magilton, the former QPR and Ipswich boss, opted instead for Leigh Broxham and Grant Brebner, a Manchester United youth player, in the centre of midfield. 

To the eye of a new coach, searching for the players with that hunger in training, Hernandez is not the man you want in the engine room for a fierce derby, but to anyone who has followed his career, he is just what you want.

During the pre-game warm up, as players sweep the ground with their fingertips, Hernandez jogs nonchalantly at the back of the line, not touching the ground once, sans care that he is not following the fitness coach's instructions. As players form diamonds and play quick one-touch passes between each other, Carlos practises his sweeping cross-field balls, inch-perfect.

As a player, his technique epitomises quality, his strike can break through a net, and his pass, both long and short, is a joy to watch. He's one of those players that strike a ball in such a way that looks effortless, natural and, oh, so artful.

His arrival in Melbourne from Costa Rican club Alajuelense on loan in 2007 was met with doubt. Victory's previous imports were widely regarded as failed ventures, and this seemed like another. He was, and maybe still is, overweight, he struggled to run out matches, and his moments of brilliance were infrequent. But towards the end of the season, his fitness improved, and he became a regular scorer and assister. 

Hernandez’ breakout performance was in a semi-final against Adelaide United in his second season at the club. He scored the second goal with a wonderful finish, but it was his three assists that gained his cult backing. The first two were sublime through balls, piercing the opposition defence, and the third was a gorgeous cross to the back post, that managed to bypass an opposition defender and find the late run of fellow midfielder Tom Pondeljak. 

Hernandez went on to win the Johnny Warren Medal (named after late pioneer of Australian football, awarded to the best player in the national league) the following year, and rightfully so. Never had the A-League seen an import of his intelligence. Dwight Yorke and Robbie Fowler were certainly bigger names, but in terms of effect, Hernandez reigns supreme.

His team are having an abhorrent season. The arrival of Harry Kewell and golden boot winner Juan Carlos Solorzano meant great expectations, ones they have failed, spectacularly, to live up to. Victory have all but no chance of making the finals, and early on in the season, after drawing 2-2 at home to the bottom side after being 2-0 up, I happened to walk past Hernandez and his family at a shopping mall. 

He was sat on a bench, playing with his child, rattle in hand. I approached him, we spoke about the rut Melbourne were in, and discussed the recent sacking of Director Football Francis Awaritefe. I then asked why his team seemed to be lacking so much confidence, he smirked and replied 'I don't know, man, it's tough'.  I then urged him to go out and play with the same confidence as per usual, and forget all the turmoil they were in, he nodded and obliged, 'I'll try man'. Again, with a cheeky smirk.

The following day, his side faced Gold Coast United in Melbourne, and after going two goals up, through penalties from Kewell and Hernandez, veteran centre-half Rodrigo Vargas was sent off for a silly two-footed tackle. United were back in the game, and with momentum on their side, they levelled the match. Melbourne are notoriously bad at closing out games, and United looked set to compound the Victory's woes. Eleven minutes from time, a ball was lofted to the back post with no speed on it, and Carlos Hernandez ghosted in, almost miraculously out-jumping a defender to head home. 

Ecstasy in the terrace behind the goal, made all the more sweet by the fact that the ample number 16 was able to rise above the opposition, and nod into the net. 

L.A Galaxy were rumoured to be interested in the Costa Rican as a replacement for David Beckham, but Beckham signing on deflated these rumours. It is a shame for the rest of the footballing world, in Europe and beyond, that the beacon of light that is Carlos Hernandez was never able to ply his trade on the world stage, as his physique and laid back demeanour never let him do so.

To quote author Robert Pirsig, the 'intellectual scalpel' is something Hernandez utilises with aplomb. He assesses a situation, reads what will happen next, and plays the ball that complements each, wielding the scalpel perfectly, resulting in the killer ball.

He may be overweight, and he may not give a fuck about warming up, but Carlos Hernandez is all that is beautiful about football. His movement is eloquent and his passing is crisp, and I, on behalf of all Australian followers of the world game, am thankful for every ball he has played.

You can follow Paul on Twitter @Paul_Sakk.

IBWM is open to everyone to share their stories. If you'd like to submit an article on any topic, please contact us.