Javier Hernández is abnormally famous for a man of his talents. He’s undoubtedly a very skilled and capable striker, especially in the latest period of his career, but Chicharito also benefits from an extraordinary fanbase in North America, one that’s unshared by any of his peers. He is by far the most visible Mexico international playing today, and if you watch a Spanish-language soccer broadcast in the U.S., you’re almost more likely than not to see Hernández during the commercial breaks.
Last season in the Bundesliga, Hernández notched 11 goals, good for 10th place on the goal-scoring leaderboard. He was arguably the most valuable player on his Bayer Leverkusen squad, but if you look at his domestic league peers, the name Chicharito is much more likely to ring a bell than Andrej Kramarić, Anthony Modeste, or Vedad Ibišević.
When West Ham signed Hernández Thursday, they weren’t just buying a 29-year-old goalscorer. They they were also buying new fans. Chicharito is the most famous soccer player in North America, and his presence could give a mid-tier Premier League team like West Ham an important boost in fandom.
Since their one season down in the Championship in 2011-12, West Ham have been a respectable yet unspectacular Premier League club. Their lineup essentially consists of the best players that the biggest clubs have no interest in, and even when the Hammers achieved a seventh-place finish in 2016, the club quickly found top player Dimitri Payet agitating for a new home.
West Ham do have ambition, though. They recently left their historic old grounds and spent their first season in the larger, renovated Olympic Stadium. They have a legitimate potential star in Manuel Lanzini, seem poised to get Stoke City’s Marko Arnautović in a huge (by West Ham’s standards) transfer, and poached solid EPL players like Robert Snodgrass and Joe Hart. The club is no title contender, but they are a Europa League hopeful who, with a few breaks, could at least consistently make it to that Everton tier.
But expansion isn’t just bigger stadiums and higher finishes—it’s also a global fanbase, and uniquely popular players from soccer-mad countries can be huge in promoting a team. Having Javier Hernández immediately puts West Ham on the radar of every El Tri supporter across Mexico and the U.S., and even if the Hammers don’t become their favorite team, they’ll certainly keep up with the exploits of their beloved Chicharito.
It’s boring to take a player as dynamic and charismatic as Chicharito and treat him more like a marketing opportunity than a player, but West Ham didn’t just buy him for his on-field talents. They can sell his jersey, put him on advertisements, and potentially get their name added to one of those lucrative preseason tours in America next summer. NBC will undoubtedly lead with him in every West Ham broadcast, and he’ll immediately become one of the most visible and well-known Premier League players in North America, especially if he performs well.
That kind of analysis a bit cold, and it’s important to make clear that Chicharito wouldn’t be here if he weren’t extremely talented. If he delivers on expectations, he (and Arnautović) will be an upgrade on West Ham’s strikers purely from a sporting perspective. But Hernández will also be a gateway for West Ham to get the money and attention they need if they’re going to eventually break into the next stratum of clubs. For a relative bargain of £16 million, West Ham just purchased a good new striker and millions of potential new fans.