Known locally as ‘The Prince’, the time has come for Geovanny Hernandez to prove himself worthy of the crown.
Like Hernandez, his country, Colombia, are at a crossroads. Can they move on to establish themselves as a global power? Or will they slip back among South America’s also-rans?
They take up the challenge under the command of Francisco Maturana, back for his fourth spell in charge. But he can no longer call on his golden generation of Freddy Rincon, Faustino Asprilla and, most important of all, Carlos Valderrama.
Plenty of gifted midfielders have buckled under the strain of replacing Colombia’s great playmaker. Hernandez has also had his chances, with only mixed results. But now the Deportivo Cali midfielder looks set to have another opportunity.
Maturana is a fan, saying: “With his intelligence and class he’s as close to Valderrama as we’re likely to find.”
Their styles are not exactly the same. Hernandez is a more direct player, more inclined to look for the killer pass or burst past the strikers in search of a shot. He can be difficult to knock off the ball, as was Valderrama, but now he has to show that he has the same mental strength as his illustrious predecessor.
Hernandez was handed playmaking duties in Maturana’s previous spell in charge, and ‘The Prince’ cut a majestic figure as Colombia won the 2001 Copa America on home soil. But when the serious business of World Cup qualification resumed, he was not nearly so regal and the team missed out on Korea/Japan.
More had been expected from the playmaker, but his domestic form has since gone from strength to strength. Despite the recent tragic death of two team-mates, hit by lightning during a training session, Hernandez has inspired Deportivo to the latter stages of the closing championship. His next big challenge is to guide Colombia towards the 2006 World Cup.
This time the circumstances should be more suited to his style. Colombia staged their last qualifiers for 2002 in the cool mountain air of Bogota.Maturana has already said they will return to Barranquilla, where the intense heat often makes opponents wilt. Barranquilla was the base when Valderrama conducted the team to the 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cups. Now it will be where ‘Prince’ Hernandez tries to become the new king of Colombian football.
Club Deportivo Cali
Born June 16, 1976, in Cali
Previous clubs Once Caldas, America, Independiente Medellin
International debut July 2000, v Peru
International caps 9 (1 goal)
Honours Copa America 2001; Colombian League 1997 (America)