Onel Hernandez - How good will he be for Norwich this season?
Going into this season, Onel Hernandez had a point to prove. The Cuban winger had spent most of the previous season on loan in the Championship whilst Norwich City struggled for goals at the bottom of the Premier League. He started the season with an unsuccessful loan spell at Middlesbrough, before moving to Birmingham City on loan in January and undertaking a more successful campaign. Norwich however is the club that Onel Hernandez loves, and he will want to be making a consistent impact for the Canaries this season. With Norwich under new management and Dean Smith at the helm, Hernandez has had a chance to revitalise his career for the Canaries, and improve in areas of his game.
Signing for Norwich City in January 2018, Hernandez was instrumental in Daniel Farke’s model of attacking football that set the EFL Championship alight in the 18/19 season. In total, Hernandez scored 8 goals and produced 9 assists, linking up brilliantly with teammates Teemu Pukki and Emi Buendia in build up play.
Two of his most memorable goals came against Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day. The Canaries dominated during the match, but found themselves 3-0 down in the 75th minute at Carrow Road. Onel Hernandez was introduced in the 65th minute, and instantly changed the complexion of the game. The winger achieved a 100% passing accuracy and created two chances, but it was his two goals that made the most impact for the Canaries. Hernandez scored in memorable fashion during the 94th and 98th minute, rescuing a point for Norwich in the final moments. This result made sure that he would go down in Norwich City folklore, and demonstrated the impact he could have had for the team in the latter stages of games. The Canaries finished the season top of the table, having scored 93 goals in the process.
Hernandez’s only goal in the Premier League the following season was a consolation goal against Manchester United, in a Norwich side that ultimately struggled to reach the consistent required standards of the Premier League. Although the Cuban consistently tried to make things happen on the left flank, often impressively dribbling with the ball and evading defenders in the process, Norwich’s defensive work was simply not good enough.
This was illuminated during an important match against relegation favourites Watford at Vicarage Road in November 2019, which was a must needed win for the Canaries. Hernandez was by far the best player for Norwich during the match, and he consistently tried to produce a moment of attacking magic. The Cuban created one chance, completed seven successful dribbles on the left flank and boasted a 76% passing accuracy. Nevertheless, Watford ultimately beat Norwich 2-0, and Hernandez’s impressive performance came to nothing. The Canaries frequently suffered heavy defeats during this season, and their relegation fate was sealed after West Ham beat Norwich by four goals at Carrow Road in June 2020.
Even back in the Championship, Hernandez struggled to find his way into the team and ended up falling out of favour with Daniel Farke. The Cuban made six starts during the 20/21 season, and 4 of these were in the opening games. Once the Canaries secured promotion back to the top flight, Hernandez was sent back to the Championship on a loan deal for the 21/22 season.
However, when he was sent on loan to Middlesbrough and Birmingham, Hernandez had the opportunity to play under English managers such as Chris Wilde, and in the process learnt how to play a different style of football. With Lee Bower as the coach, Hernandez executed a successful spell with the Blues, scoring 3 goals and producing 3 assists. This included an important opening goal against Barnsley, which helped the Blues secure a 2-1 victory. Hernandez calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net after receiving the ball from just outside of the box. He celebrated triumphantly, and although his loan was short, he became a popular figure among players and fans.
Now back at Norwich City, with Daniel Farke gone and a new coaching team at the helm, Hernandez’s loan spells have given him an insight into how he is expected to play within Dean Smith’s side. Combining this new knowledge with a determination to find a place into the Canaries starting eleven has produced a revitalised Onel Hernandez.
So far, Onel Hernandez has had an impressive 22/23 campaign. The winger has accumulated a xG of 0.86, boasting a 60% shooting accuracy. He has also notched up an impressive assist xG too with a total of 0.65 expected assists, showing his ability to create for the side as well as take on chances in front of goal. He has predominantly started in his favoured position on the left wing, and he has played 286 minutes for the club.
Hernandez, this season and throughout his Norwich City career, has constantly tormented defenders on the left side of the field, with his unpredictable movement and agility. Despite the Cuban being 29 years old, he still has incredible acceleration with the ball at his feet and can get into good positions on the left flank to cross the ball into the box. Off the ball, Hernandez is a hard worker and constantly pressures opposition players, trying to force them into mistakes. Norwich players were often criticised last season in the Premier League for being too laid back and not aggressive enough, both on and off the ball. Hernandez, every time he plays, is the opposite of laid back; he always gives his all for the Canaries and runs constantly. He gives everything for the badge.
The winger finally got his headline moment that he deserved against Birmingham City. The Canaries were drawing 1-1 at St Andrews, desperately searching for a match winner after a largely lacklustre performance. Hernandez was subbed on after the hour mark, and the Cuban winger was determined to make an impact.
He created a chance for the Canaries soon after coming on, but he would have to wait until injury time to get his star moment. After a hurried goal kick from Tim Krul in the 93rd minute, the ball landed at star striker Teemu Pukki’s feet, who was able to put Hernandez through on goal with a clever pass. The Cuban was able to coolly slot the ball into the back of the net, through former Canary John Ruddy’s legs, providing the last minute match winner. The Canary away fans went into raptures as Hernandez raced over to them, taking his shirt off and pointing to the Norwich City tattoo on his upper arm. It was a fairytale moment that Hernandez had dreamed of when he was struggling to find his way into Norwich City’s starting eleven.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for that moment.” Hernandez stated in his post match interview. “I’ve had it in my head since I came back and every time I’ve been on the pitch, I’ve asked myself: ‘when will that moment come?’ and today it did. That was special.”
It is no secret as to how much Onel Hernandez loves the club. His unrelenting passion for Norwich City comes through both on and off the pitch, with his involvement and enthusiasm for Norwich events within the city. This has made him a popular figure among fans and players alike, with his dressing room nickname being ‘the Bull’ due to his constant determination and passion on the ball.
Hernandez, of course, is determined to start every game for Norwich, but he has ultimately emphasised to the backroom staff that he is a ‘team player’ and is willing to help the team wherever he is needed. “I spoke to him (Hernandez) today about not starting because he’s started the past couple of games. He said, ‘listen, I’m a team player- I want to be celebrating at the end of the season after having made a contribution,' Dean Smith stated in his Birmingham City post match press conference. The Cuban’s commitment to the team is an essential mentality booster within the dressing room, and he no doubt helps the team’s morale with his passion for Norwich.
Hernandez has sometimes received criticism for his end product, and how he sometimes lacks the ability to be clinical in front of goal compared to other players within the Norwich team. Dean Smith has insisted that he has been working on this with Hernandez in training. His work in training clearly paid off as he was able to clinically score a last minute winner for the club. Hernandez is playing with confidence, ambition and conviction and is enjoying Dean Smith life at Norwich with Dean Smith at the helm. It will not be a surprise if the Cuban keeps scoring important goals throughout the season for the Canaries.
Onel Hernandez is entering the final year of his contract this season, and so far there has been little talk about his contract being extended as the winger approaches his 30th birthday. Many Canaries will believe that Onel should be offered a contract extension. No matter what happens, Onel Hernandez will always be remembered at Norwich City for his passion, skill and unmatched love and commitment to the club.