Why Spain thinks Chicharito is Barca's biggest worry
Ask any Spaniard who Barcelona should be most afraid of when they face Manchester United on Saturday, and the most likely answer is not Wayne Rooney or the hugely admired Ryan Giggs but the man they call Chicharito.
"Hugo Sanchez was one of the best goal scorers in Mexican football history and during his time in Madrid he was a nightmare for Barcelona. Now, the son of one of his former team-mates could be the man to beat Barcelona," wrote the Spanish football magazine Don Balon a week ago.
No regular watcher of the Premier League needs me to tell you why Barca should fear Javier Hernandez - the offspring of former Mexico striker Javier Hernandez Gutierrez - when he's on the field.
The debate in Spain about who Sir Alex Ferguson will field at Wembley sees almost every pundit believing Barca stand a better chance of beating United if the Premier League champions opt for the more conservative 4-5-1 formation, with Rooney as the sole front man to start with.
There is a large amount of jealousy that no La Liga club signed Hernandez. Photo: PA
Even at the start of the season, after the summer tour of the United States and the FA Community Shield but before he'd made his Premier League debut, the Spanish media were eulogising Chicharito.
"He's the most significant arrival at United for several years. After they [United] fell short against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals last year, he could herald a return to the [Champions League] final after they had made it there in the two seasons before," wrote the Spanish newspaper Marca last August.
Part of the reason why Chicharito is so embedded in the Spanish psyche as United's potential bogey man is probably because of a sense of jealousy that no La Liga club was on the ball enough to sign him 18 months ago, around the time United started to make overtures about taking him to Manchester.
I am fairly sure that several scouts for Spanish clubs in Mexico have been hauled over the coals at not making their employers or clients aware of Chicharito's talent when he was at Guadalajara, where he had been playing since the age of nine.
After all, Mexico has been a provider of plenty of players for Spanish clubs over the years.
Barcelona themselves not so long ago recruited Giovani dos Santos - who wants to stay in Spain after a successful second half of the season on-loan from Spurs to Racing Santander - and then his brother Jonathan while they were teenagers and schooled them in their famous La Masia academy.
Historically, the best of all the Mexican players ever to have plied their trade in La Liga may have been Sanchez but in last summer's Mexico squad that went tothe World Cup, alongside Chicharito, there was Deportivo La Coruna's Andres Guardado and Barcelona's Rafael Marquez, although the latter soon moved on to the New York Red Bulls.
Parochial as it may seem, a good number of Spanish fans still think that every Spanish-speaking player should have the same attitude as Guardado who said upon his arrival at the Galician club in 2007: "I wanted to move to a Spanish club so I don't have any problems with the language and the non-Hispanic culture."
Talent alone doesn't just explain why Spain, not just Barca fans, fears Chicharito. Some of it also comes down to sheer green-eyed envy that Manchester United managed to whisk him away from under various La Liga clubs' noses.
The purported transfer fee of £6m has also had Spanish commentators echoing what some English blogs have been suggesting, that he is Ferguson's best value signing in his 25 years as manager at Old Trafford.
Real Madrid fans are likely to give Manchester United their full backing on Saturday. Photo: Getty
Just about any La Liga club could have come up with that sort of money, and most wish they had.
However, just as the thought of Chicharito leaves plenty of Barca fans in a cold sweat - of course, many people also mention the danger of Rooney in front of goal but almost as an afterthought - there has been much smacking of lips in the Barcelona-biased media about the perceived weakness on the right side of United's defence.
The view has been regularly expressed in recent weeks that Ferdinand is not quite what he once was and whoever plays at right-back, whether it is O'Shea or Rafael, is a weak link that Messi, Villa and others will happily exploit.
It was O'Shea and Ferdinand who were on duty when the two teams last faced each other in the 2009 final in Rome, and Messi managed to make the pair look very ordinary far too often before getting the second goal that clinched the 2-0 victory 20 minutes from time.
The fact that the final will be played at Wembley also doesn't seem to dampen Barca spirits either.
"Wembley is a symbolic venue for Barca as much as Manchester United," added Don Balon, noting that Barcelona's first European Cup triumph - just like United's - came in London.
Not surprisingly, at least not to anyone with a passing knowledge of the politics of Spanish football, not all of the country will be urging Barcelona on to victory from in front of their television screens.
Manchester United will be getting vocal support from a fair number of disgruntled Real Madrid supporters, many still seething about their semi-final defeat to the Catalan club.
During a quick trawl of a few bars in and around Madrid last weekend, I chatted to various Real fans and quickly established that quite a significant percentage - I wouldn't dare to hazard a guess at a number given the unscientific way the research was done - were prepared to put the club rivalry and traditional enmity above national loyalty.
However, vice-versa, you don't have to have astonishing powers of insight to realise that there might also be a few Liverpool and Manchester City fans cheering for Barcelona on Saturday night.