Champions League: Rio Ferdinand backs Javier Hernandez

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Javier Hernandez
Hernandez has scored 20 goals during his first season in England

Rio Ferdinand has backed Manchester United's Javier Hernandez - labelled "the sensation of the season" by manager Sir Alex Ferguson - to rise to the occasion if he faces Barcelona in Saturday's Champions League final.

The 22-year-old Mexican has scored 20 goals in his first season at Old Trafford since making a bargain £6m move from Chivas de Guadalajara, and could start alongside Wayne Rooney at Wembley.

"He has been exceptional for a young player in his first season," Ferdinand told BBC Sport. "He has shown great maturity and, if he plays, I expect him to handle it as professionally as he has done in all the other big games he has played in.

"He seems to thrive on the big occasion. Chicarito has been a surprise package to most people but he is extremely dedicated. I don't think anyone expected him to do as well as he has but he has hit the ground running and been a real threat for us this season.

"The manager will tell you he is the first in to training and the last to leave. One of the first things I was told as a young player was that if you work hard, you get your rewards, and that is what is happening with Chicarito now.

"To score 20 goals in your first season as a young player in a new country is phenomenal but he deserves his success for the hard work he puts in on the training ground and with his dedication to the game."

Manchester United manager, Ferguson, speaking at the club's media day ahead of a repeat of the 2009 Champions League final against Barcelona, was also lavish in his praise for Hernandez.

"Javier has developed his strength through his own volition," said Ferguson, "making sure he was in early every morning doing his core work and working on his upper body strength to handle the rigours of the Premier League."

Michael Owen, who has spent much of the season in the Old Trafford shadows as Hernandez took the top flight by storm, is left hoping for a place on the substitutes' bench against Barcelona and the opportunity to make an impact.

"I'd love to be involved but I have got to get on the bench first because we've got so many good players here," Owen told BBC Sport. "If I was on the bench and brought on, I would obviously love to score or help the team win."

Owen accepts that a role on the margins is now a fact of his Old Trafford life: "If I was at a smaller club I would never be involved in these big games but, being at a club like Manchester United, you have got a chance of playing a part in them.

"You have to prepare mentally and physically in the same manner as every other player. You may know that you are not starting but you also know you may be needed at any time."