Paddy Davitt: Excitement is not enough if Hernandez wants to be centre stage for City
Onel Hernandez had appeared to relish Daniel Farke’s pre-season challenge to add more end product to his game.
Farke said this back in July, after Hernandez had made the difference in a behind-closed-doors friendly win over Crawley at Colney.
“It is important to be effective in your game. That is a topic we work on constantly. If he was world class in that one aspect then he would play for Barcelona and Manchester City and we couldn’t afford him.”
Birmingham City’s pending visit to Carrow Road later this week, for what feels a vital Championship game in the bigger picture, is a pertinent reminder of Hernandez’s two excellent finishes on the opening day at St Andrews.
But for the wide midfielder’s cool brace City would have got off to a losing start. Following on from a desperately poor end to the previous season one should not underestimate Hernandez’s role in lifting the mood music and arguably setting the tone for a defiant streak which continued again at West Brom on Saturday.
Yet bar another dramatic intervention to salvage a festive point against Nottingham Forest, with a superb stoppage time cameo, Hernandez has failed to add to his tally.
Six assists to go with those four league goals looks a decent return on face value from 21 Championship appearances. There have also been periods of injury to halt his progress, while the emergence of Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell have injected a healthy degree of competition.
But when you review again the quality of Hernandez’s goals it begs the question why have we not seen more productivity where it really matters?
PLAYER WATCH: Hernandez shook off slack start to keep driving City forward at West Brom
The 25-year-old is a valuable commodity because he offers something different in a midfield mix of measured prompting, controlled passing and technical ball players; allied to Alex Tettey’s combative urges. When Hernandez has open spaces and the ball under his command there is a frisson of excitement. A sense perhaps not even the player himself knows what is likely to happen next as he moves through the gears with the acceleration of a sprinter. Therein lies the problem.
Hernandez is not the first wide player in green and yellow to frustrate with his inconsistency or the flaws in his decision-making. That has been the lot of the Murphy twins and Nathan Redmond in recent times, at various stages of their development. If you want to broaden this out to others operating within the same strand of their profession similar words were levelled at Cristiano Ronaldo or Ryan Giggs when they first burst onto scene. Implicit in that is a nod to youthful naivety, or the impetuosity which gets supporters off their feet but invariably has them slumping back into their seat almost as quickly. But Hernandez is now in his mid-twenties. That is not the first flush of youth nor is he acclimatising any longer to the unique demands of English football.
Norwich have an infectious character in their ranks who on his best days is capable of a major impact on games at this level. The talent is not in doubt, the work ethic is not in doubt, but we need to see a maturity to his decision-making with and without the ball.
West Brom’s opening goal at The Hawthorns owed as much to Hernandez’s failure to sense the danger from overlapping full back Mason Holgate as it did Dwight Gayle’s trigger movement to lose Ben Godfrey.
Holgate was excellent on the day but Jamal Lewis had precious little back-up in that frenetic opening quarter. Granted, Hernandez is not in the side for his defensive ability but it was another little signal to sit alongside the elaborate flicks in the wrong areas of the pitch, or the wayward attempted deliveries when his pace and thrust get him in positions that should send alarm bells ringing amongst opposition defenders.
Hernandez could still have a massive part to play in Norwich’s push for promotion over these coming months.
But with Buendia back after injury and Cantwell seemingly refusing to budge, after grabbing his chance in the line up following an injury lay-off to the former Braunschweig flyer, Farke’s pre-season challenge to the wide player feels even more relevant.