FOX Soccer Exclusive
Patience is key for new hero Jimenez
One has to wonder whether Raúl Jiménez stole a quiet moment amid the furor he created last week to contemplate his future.
Jiménez rescued Mexico with a bicycle kick so magnificent it played on a loop across the world this weekend. In one acrobatic swoop, he salvaged his country's dwindling World Cup hopes and thrust himself under the uncompromising spotlight befitting such a singular feat.
What exactly is he supposed to do for an encore?
Jiménez is living in the wake of a moment he cannot even dream to replicate at a later date. It is difficult to find a way forward from scoring a magical goal already etched in Mexican lore, a way to somehow improve upon the likely pinnacle of your career at the tender age of 22.
He might as well try, though. Jiménez already has a gold medal from London, a prolific scoring record with Club América and a goal worth remembering for the remainder of his days. And the talented striker possesses all of the tools to ensure he is not a one-hit wonder on the international level.
The efforts to expand his body of work commence with Mexico's critical excursion to Costa Rica on Tuesday. Jiménez may have saved his team on Friday, but his vital contribution does not ensure a place in the starting XI for the trip to San José. In fact, he will probably have to settle for a spot on the bench to watch his teammates fight for the draw required to guarantee a World Cup playoff with New Zealand next month -- or the win necessary to sustain those faint hopes of overhauling Honduras for a direct berth to Brazil.
Jiménez faces a rather significant battle to force his way into the reckoning given the vibrant competition up front. His path to regular football is blocked by Javier Hernández and Oribe Peralta, two accomplished strikers, with established roles, and more extensive résumés.
The clamor to reassess Hernández's place in the side and select Jiménez instead increased after Hernández missed a spot kick during the second half of the fraught victory over Panama. It is typically short-term thinking to replace the potential goat with the confirmed hero, but Chicharito's confidence and form for both club and country provide reason for concern. His lack of regular match practice with Manchester United and his largely substandard displays with El Tri this year means his spot within the pecking order is no longer certain.
Hernández's continued inclusion from the start makes sense, though. He remains Mexico's best pure finisher, a poacher of the highest order capable of turning the game at any point. His track record suggests he will eventually come good at some point. His one-two with Peralta to prompt the opener offered an encouraging sign for their partnership and their combined utility from the run of play. And it is rather difficult to envision a successful Mexico campaign next summer without Chicharito playing an influential role in the proceedings.
Jiménez continues to progress for both club and country, but it is asking a bit too much for him to slide into Hernandez's weighty role at the moment without further polishing. He relishes the space provided in Liga MX and uses his pace to dart behind defensive lines, but he already knows those avenues are harder to locate at the international level. He finishes chances with regularity, though he isn't yet in Hernandez's class in that department. As the iffy first touch to set the stage for the stunning winner showed, his buildup work in possession still needs some attention to thrive at the top level.
At this stage of his career, Jiménez benefits from biding his time until Hernández's form completely craters or Peralta picks up yet another injury to force a wider tactical reassessment. His primary skills – the pace and the finishing touch – are well suited to alter and stretch the game in the second half, particularly when Mexico returns to a counterattacking approach against stronger opposition. A gradual, patient path also allows him to develop at an acceptable rate and reduces the inevitable weight of expectation heaped upon his shoulders.
Perhaps the best way for Jiménez to move forward from his flash of brilliance involves embracing a measured approach to his next tasks. Instead of searching for another spectacular moment, he can instead focus on consistent, incremental gains one match, one performance and one result at a time. It isn't the easy road by any means to build methodically toward a career defined by more than just one instance of glory, but it is one Jiménez must take. Substance, not panache, represents the best way to ensure the magnitude of his second act somehow approaches his first.