Throughout his life, Hernández has been known as one thing: a soccer player. However last year, the identifier stopped being enough. This is the story of just how Hernández waded through doubt, grief, and also isolation to uncover himself—and his game—anew.

Harrison Freeman
havier “Chicharito” Hernández glances in ~ the ink the lines his arms. That points to a tattoo of a yin and yang symbol. Then one of two elephants, a larger one and also a smaller one, drawn across his appropriate forearm. The elephants stand for what he refers to as his childish side and also his tires side. The calls these competing parts of that his “dualities.” and there are others:

His ego matches his essence.

His light versus his shadow.

Chicharito versus Javi—the name he’s well-known by almost everywhere the world, and the one supplied by family and loved ones.

“I have two sides,” that says. “And it’s no just since I’m a Gemini. I think we all have actually it.”

Hernández is sitting high up in the stand of the L.A. Galaxy’s stadium, Dignity health Sports Park, ~ above a mid-September afternoon. As soon as he speaks, the alternates in between sounding sure and also unsure the himself. Warm and guarded. He exist on extremes. “His emotions are an extremely high,” claims Galaxy general manager Dennis car Kloese, who’s recognized Hernández since he was about 15. “And an extremely low.”

This day, the 33-year-old Hernández is attract forest-green, calf-length socks v dozens that smiley-face emoji sprawled across them. The socks room fitting—an outside emblem of something the striker has been searching for internally. Yet perhaps an ext than happiness, Hernández has been searching for peace.

Seventeen month ago, Hernández’s grand Tomás Balcázar—the legend Mexican professional footballer—died at the age of 88. Mourning his loss, Hernández ended up being depressed. He disappointed on the field, logging just two objectives in the whole 2020 season. And also off the field, he doubted every little of himself. He realized he didn’t understand who he was beyond scoring goals—beyond make other world happy. And also when he no able to perform either, he had to contend with wherein his self-worth comes from: “I had actually to learn just how to expropriate myself.”

He frequently thought that the countless dollars he had made; every the nations he had played in; the awards he had actually accumulated. However it felt hollow.

His mother, Silvia Balcázar, had actually been right, in the method that mothers often are. Ago when Hernández was a young boy, dreaming the stardom, she warned him: “Ten cuidado con lo que sueñas, porque lo más seguro es que se haga realidad.”

“Be cautious what friend dream of, due to the fact that it can just come true.”

Growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico, Hernández to be something the a neighborhood curiosity. Civilization used to beam in ~ him, identify him together Tomás’s nephew or “Chicharito,” which method “the tiny Pea”—a nickname the stems from his dad Javier Sr.’s moniker, “Chicharo” (“the Pea”), for his environment-friendly eyes. Hernández was proud come come from together a storied family. Tomás played for Mexico in the 1954 civilization Cup, scoring a goal versus France. And also Javier Sr. Played because that the 1986 Mexican national team that reached the civilization Cup quarterfinals.

Hernández can’t remember a time as soon as he no on stage. Performing. Gift Chicharito.

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He constantly felt choose he had to live as much as the nickname due to the fact that of the tremendous expectations the came with his lineage. When he an initial gained notice on the field, world in Guadalajara assumed that it wasn’t because of his technological skill, but that he was increasing within the ranks only for politics reasons.

“People constantly identified me no by me, but something else,” Hernández says. “Even if i was law good, that was, ‘Of course he’s doing good, since probably the manager is friends with his family.’”

Eventually, Hernández would leave Mexico and also play at few of the many storied clubs approximately the world: Manchester United, West Ham United, genuine Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Sevilla. The valuation of his life became: achieve, achieve, achieve. Train, train, train. “You have to be perfect,” he’d think to himself.

After a disappointed season through Sevilla FC in 2019—where Hernández scored simply one goal in ripe La Liga matches—he decided to return to North America to take it on a new challenge with the Galaxy. Expectations were extraordinarily high for Hernández entering his an initial MLS season. He to be the league’s highest-paid player; the was an alleged to be among its biggest stars, helping to draw more attention to MLS; and on his club, Hernández was an alleged to replace the sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had returned come Europe to play for A.C. Milan.

But when his grandfather, the man who first inspired that to absent a ball, died, Hernández feel lost. That was as if he’d lost a second father—and a item of himself. “It was choose a void,” he says. “I to be trying to numb myself.”

The days after that blurred. The struggled to do straightforward things: wake up up, eat, make his bed. He tried come mask his pain, pretend it no exist. He to be lonely, and he can not visit family in Guadalajara since of take trip restrictions throughout the pandemic.

He feel empty. At time he would certainly cry while training alone. The isolated himself from friends and also family. He feared he was letting down those that cared about most.

“I have two sides. And also it’s no just because I’m a Gemini. I think us all have actually it.” —“Chicharito” Hernández

But the Galaxy’s season was underway, therefore he tried to press through. He’d run up and also down the ar in Los Angeles, but his body wouldn’t advice at the speed his mind told the to. The missed shots that ordinarily make. He hardly resembled the dazzling player who came to be the an initial Mexican transport to Manchester United; the player who became Mexico’s all-time leading scorer with 52 goals; the player who was once component of genuine Madrid’s strike with Cristiano Ronaldo. “I tried to it is in my best,” the says, “but my ideal wasn’t an excellent enough.”

To do matters worse, Hernández suffered a calf injury that led to him come sit out for two months as the Galaxy failed to do the playoffs. Movie critics wondered even if it is he had lost focus. Some stated that the had end up being too arrogant. Others believed he was previous his prime. As the criticism persisted, it became harder because that Hernández to neglect it:

Chicharito’s overrated.

Chicharito couldn’t cut it in Europe.

Chicharito can’t even make it in MLS.

Chicharito’s done.

And the human being he would have turned to because that refuge was gone.

Hernández establish something necessary to adjust if he was going to pull himself out of his despair. The thought earlier to when his perfectionist perspective began—when he ended up being so wedded come exceeding others’ expectations. Then he experienced a Jim Carrey interview in i beg your pardon Carrey explained depression as the self asking because that a deep rest—a rest from the character the the me creates and also tries come play.

When Hernández heard the word “character,” other in him shifted. The realized that all his life, he had actually been playing a character: the character of Chicharito; the personality of the football player.

“I play a character because that’s what we ask of famed people,” that says. “It’s offer me, offer me, provide me.”

The more he wondered about his location in the world, the more unsettled he felt, and also the an ext epiphanies the had. One would bloom right into two. Two into three. For the very first time, that noticed that whenever who asked that to define himself, the respond with what he did: “I’m a football player.” This time, though, once he stated those words come himself, they appeared foreign.

“Who are you?” he’d asking himself, staring in ~ his reflection in the mirror.

A part of him is still trying to find answers. Recently, he was stunned once someone control by in a auto in L.A. Recognized him ~ above the street, also while he was wearing sunglasses, a cap, and also a mask. “Chicharito!” the voice screamed.

Hard together he tries, Hernández can not hide indigenous the character he has created. The personality he has become.

photo by Shaun Clark/Getty pictures

For Hernández, figuring out that he was supposed accepting the parts of himself that he didn’t want to see. The parts that create his “shadow”—his word because that his imperfections and shortcomings.

There to be his negative play throughout the Galaxy’s dreadful 2020 campaign. The pain that came once his wife went back to her house in Australia the year v their two young children, Nala and Noah. And his avoidance that confronting his grief approximately his grandfather’s death. “It sort of broke him,” says Ana Silvia Hernández Balcázar, Hernández’s sister. “I nothing know exactly how he controlled to get through the season. That was prefer all his world collapsed in a minute.”

He’d zone the end for long stretches ~ above his couch, playing video clip games. He to be disappointed in himself, especially in just how he pertained to others. “I no the finest partner I needed to be, i wasn’t the best dad that I want to be,” that says. “I wasn’t a great friend. Ns wasn’t the good human being I want to be.”

“Here is this man who climbed to the top of his career. He has actually played with all of the greats. Together he’s getting toward the later on stages of his career, he’s no the very same player as he when was. For this reason what encourages you?” —Roydian Chan, fitness trainer

He no yet prepared to recognize those things, though. He claims his ego wouldn’t let him. He retained trying come hide his emotions, a actions he internalized as a boy. “I’ve constantly been really sensitive,” Hernández says. “A the majority of times ns tried to hide it. Ns realized I had actually to. … I’m not the tallest. I’m not very big. I’m not very stereotypically masculine. … We view a guy cry, us think he’s weak, yet we room all human.

“In society, vulnerability is weakness. Because that me, vulnerability is just one of the most powerful, strong, and loving things that you can do because that yourself and also for humanity.”

But Hernández struggled to have empathy for himself. He taken into consideration quitting football for great after the season ended. “More than once,” says Diego Dreyfus, his near friend. “Some civilization at the height fall and never acquire up again. And also he was right there.”

“I didn’t truly think in myself,” Hernández says, adding later: “I to be letting myself down.”

Soccer was no much longer the refuge it had actually been because he to be 9, once he first joined C.D. Guadalajara. In ~ that suggest in his life, that was just happy to play. To operation up and also down every day. He remembers being taught to fight because that his purposes on the field, come appear strong and confident at every times. His family taught him the he would certainly not be guarantee anything, even with his name. The warning around dreaming, about unintended consequences, was never too far away.

“Las oportunidades sólo se presentan una vez en la vida,” his mom would phone call him. “Si las dejas ir, no vuelven. Por eso tienes que estar preparado.”

“Opportunities come one time in life. And if lock pass, they don’t come back. That’s why you must be ready.”

So that worked and worked come carve his own identity, come prove that he to be worthy ~ above his very own merits. He ended up being quick ~ above his feet; an instinctual, energetic player who was savvy in the box. He became almost a cult hero in Mexico, where footballers room revered as if they deserve to cure disease with their feet.

His life started to speed up. That left his comfort zone and played roughly the world. He tried harder and harder to push past every viewed slight: gift left the end of the starting 11 at times, gift left out of the mexican U17 team the went ~ above to success the 2005 FIFA U-17 people Championship, gift left turn off the Mexican national team this past June. Every snub threatened to chip away at the many fragile component of him.

“Sometimes,” that says, “you don’t even have time to love yourself. It’s about survival. Reaching for one more goal.”

Maybe it is why, after a life time of reaching, of yearning to it is in embraced, he started to establish what lay in ~ the main point of his emptiness: the id that one had to accomplish to be loved.

As Hernández headed right into this past offseason, that got an additional tattoo ~ above his arm: “El amor es mi súper poder.” “Love is mine superpower.”

“It was about accepting me,” he says. “Like, ns don’t should achieve to have actually value, friend know? that’s what culture tells us. We are perplexed in a way—that we worth ourselves by our achievements.”

Changing the means he thought around himself was difficult, though. He had actually to confront the things he didn’t like and also feel, as he put it, “comfortable in gift uncomfortable.”

“Imagine this stadium,” that says, extending out his arms. “You want to rebuild it? You have to tear it down. … ns knew deep within myself that I required to take responsibility of my life.”

That meant being responsible for not just how he played, however how he communicated with others. “He said, ‘I to be the one that underperformed, I need to change that, and I’m walking to execute that,’” states Nico de Zambiasi, Hernández’s close friend. That vowed to not suggest fingers in ~ anyone. No at God. Not at his coaches. Not at anyone but himself.

“That day was a turning point in his life,” de Zambiasi says.

Hernández thought a lot around the native freedom. “In Mexico, we say libertad,” that says. “All the time, i felt that freedom was law whatever. Literally, whatever the fuck you desire to do, anytime.” that shakes his head. “No.” Freedom, the learned, intended responsibility; duty to thoughtfully select how that acted.

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“Just waking up every day. Waking increase in what mood. Or beating mine anxious moments, beating mine ego,” he says. “It’s a process.” Freedom, too, meant defining himself by his own terms. Play out of creativity and also love the the game, not to show a allude to others.

He began to take on all components of himself—the thoughtful side, the happy side. How the boundless power he bring to matches never quite wears off. Sometimes he loser his voice from singing also loudly in the car. The laughs as soon as he burps. He brushes his this every morning with such fervor—dancing and also making all kinds that noise—that Dreyfus have the right to hear the from rooms away.

Hernández started listening to every one of his thoughts fairly than trying come rid self of negative ones. Instead of harping ~ above mistakes, he observed them together opportunities. He worked hard come rehab his calf, training at all hrs of the day. He ran up and down hills, at full speed, over and also over. The was established to prove that he still belonged.

“Here is this male who climbed come the height of his career. He has actually played with every one of the greats,” says Roydian Chan, his fitness trainer. “As he’s acquiring toward the later stages of his career, he’s no the same player as he as soon as was. For this reason what urges you?

“A most it had actually to carry out with the fact that he simply felt choose it’s not over for him yet,” Chan says. “He thinks he’s going to reach his ideal version at this age and also prove everybody not correct that questioned him.”

Hernández also started come think an ext about love himself, specifically as he is; whether he is failing or succeeding; scoring or sitting out. He had actually to think he is worthy, in any kind of situation. Yet in ending up being that vulnerable, he had actually to surrender old beliefs. Let go of the should prove that he was an excellent enough. That he was his very own man. Not his grandfather, no his father. However Javi.

As the winter turned to spring, Hernández began to rotate his fist to tiny joys. The sight of a bird. The sunset. The palm trees. That felt a small bit lighter. Brighter.

He began talking to self more, and also started to have much more epiphanies. “I’m more than my money, 보다 my fame,” the says.

To respect his grandfather, Hernández wore a ring with a “T” below a star. He shared stories through his kids around Tomás—how that was part of the “Campeonísimo,” the historical Guadalajara team the won 7 championships; exactly how there is a street in Guadalajara called after him. He told his youngsters how funny his grandfather was. Exactly how sarcastic, just how kind.

Hernández became determined. In the Galaxy’s opening game against Inter Miami this spring, Hernández scored a goal—a left-footed shot indigenous the edge of the 6-yard box in the 62nd minute. Afterward, that jumped around and also pointed come the sky, then tucked his head down into the chests the his teammates. It was a relief. The two groups went ago and forth, and also then Hernández score again in the 73rd minute, helping the Galaxy come a 3-2 win. He needed that. “That to be honestly a huge monkey off his back,” Chan says.

Hernández continued his streak, scoring 10 objectives in the very first 10 games of the season. He felt happier. His household was proud. He still referred to as his parents after every game, together he always had.

But then he experienced a calf injury in so late June, which resulted in him to miss out on 12 continuous games. The was incredibly frustrating; to rebound, just to be collection back through something out of his control. Chan meant him come look angry after the video game in which the injury occured, as any type of person might. Yet instead he looked calm.

He focused on what he could control: he’d visualize himself coming back, scoring. Enjoying himself. The play full matches in his head. He worked harder in rehab, native morning till night.

Finally, he returned to play in early September. In a game against Real Salt Lake, he almost scored in the 16th minute, but goalkeeper David Ochoa batted away the attempt. Hernández bowed his head in frustration, then conveniently shook that off.

He come close again, in the 57th minute, yet Ochoa quit him again. This time, Hernández didn’t put his head down. If anything, the became much more energized. Finally, in the 76th minute, he damaged through, beating Ochoa come the near post.

Hernández bolted toward the crowd, then slide on his knees, leaning earlier in a gesture the bravado. He stared at genuine Salt Lake’s fans, defiantly, as if to say, “You really questioned me? friend really thought I was done?”

He popped ago up, pumping his arms ago and forth. A gigantic smile washed end him. That laughed and screamed and also jumped around. He looked exhilarated. The looked lighter. He looked favor himself.