On the back of a promising start to the season with Huesca, Juan Camilo Hernandez received his first call-up to the Colombia national team for their friendlies against the United States and Costa Rica this international break. At 19, the on-loan Watford forward would become one of the 15 youngest debutants in Colombia’s history if he were to appear.
Hernandez is used to achieving things early. He made his debut for Deportivo Pereira at 15; as a 16-17 year old, he was the top scorer in the Colombian second division with 21 goals; early last year, at 17, he scored twice as the second youngest player in Colombia’s squad at the South American Under-20 Championship; and last season, he led Huesca’s successful push for promotion to the Primera Division in Spain with 16 goals and six assists.
This, though, is the first time we’ve had the detailed underlying statistics to support the credentials of the forward nicknamed ‘Cucho’. It is still early into the season and so the sample size isn’t great, but even as part of a Huesca team who have struggled to adjust to the step up to the top flight, Hernandez is posting some impressive numbers.
To provide an idea of how good they are, last season in La Liga, only seven players managed to combine over three shots per match with an expected goals per shot of more than 0.10. Four of them played for Barcelona or Real Madrid. This season, nobody younger than Hernandez in Europe’s big five leagues is achieving that.
That has not yet translated into more than a single goal (away at Barcelona), but as he himself said last week: when another comes, others will surely follow.
There are perhaps a few too many hopeful potshots there, but given the limitations of his team (Huesca are bottom of the table and only a couple of teams are generating less shots per match, a fact which contributed to manager Leo Franco getting his walking papers this week), and that he is largely working those positions himself, it’s understandable.
Along with the ball-carrying and passing ability of midfielder Gonzalo Melero, on whom Villarreal have already agreed a first-option deal, and the all-round dribbling, passing and shooting contribution of Alex Galler, scorer of three of Huesca’s seven goals to date, Hernandez is one of the three pillars of Huesca’s attacking output.
The 19-year-old provides more than just shot volume. His nimbleness on the turn and powerful burst of acceleration are useful attributes in terms of progressing his team upfield. While he has a tendency to get lost in central areas, when he drifts wide and is able to find more propitious physical matchups, he has the necessary strength to receive with his back to goal and lay the ball off or spin away from his marker and move forward.
Hernandez is a very active player on both sides of the ball. With it, he is an effervescent presence, sometimes imprecise but always looking to make things happen. Without it, he covers good ground; his defensive contributions (18.84 pressures, 2.07 pressure regains per 90 minutes) to date have been solid on a team who are relatively passive out of possession.
He is still very young and there are undoubtedly a number of rough edges to his game, but Hernandez looks to have all the building blocks to eventually become a highly productive attacker. Statistically, he profiles more like regular-shooting wide forwards such as Lyon’s Bertrand Traore and Everton’s Richarlison than as an outright central striker, and unless he makes a leap forward physically over the next couple of years, that is likely to be his position.
Somewhere in the region of 10 goals, which his xG total to date suggests could be possible if he remains fit, in his first season in the top flight would represent a good return and further suggest that he has a bright future ahead of him. By the eye and by the limited numbers we have to date, Hernandez looks a real thoroughbred. The next two or three years will provide a clearer picture of just how good a player Watford and Colombia have on their hands.