It’s not easy for any young player to leave a huge European club like Real Madrid. Just look at the likes of Jesé (remember him?) and Álvaro Morata, who have both struggled since leaving the Santiago Bernabéu.
In the case of Theo Hernández, it’s become clear that the choice to leave Spain for Milan was absolutely the right one. Having been handpicked by club legend Paolo Maldini for the left-back role, he has since blossomed into a fearless all-round defender who can also be a threat himself going forward.
I didn’t have the opportunity to show what I am at Real Madrid.
– Theo Hernández
Tenacious in his tackling, the Frenchman hardly allows his opponent any space or time on the ball, harrying them away from goal with his immense pressure. He’s unafraid of challenging for headers against the strongest of attackers, or even matching the fastest of wingers stride for stride, by using his remarkable turn of pace.
Moving further up the pitch, no defender in last season’s Serie A attempted or completed more dribbles than the 22-year-old, demonstrating his desire to drive his team forward and create offensive opportunities.
His willingness to impact the scoreboard is also evident, through his 2019/20 tally of seven goals and three assists in all competitions, which is an impressive statline for any defender to notch up.
Having played for five different clubs during his five seasons as a professional so far, Hernández finally appears to have found a permanent home to develop and improve further, and at his young age, he appears to have all the tools needed to become a star player at the left-back position.
The first team that he joined at the tender age of nine years old was Atlético Madrid, whom he joined with his brother Lucas, after moving to Spain from his native Marseille. It wasn’t an entirely surprising move for the pair to join Los Indios, given that their father Jean-François had also played for the club during his playing career.
Having progressed through the youth ranks, he eventually found himself on the bench under Diego Simeone for a home fixture against Eibar, but was not afforded any playing time that day. With Filipe Luís firmly entrenched into the Argentinian’s best team, the Frenchman was sent out on loan to Alavés for the 2016/17 campaign.
It was at the Basque side where the young defender made himself a player to watch in La Liga. He was a regular for Mauricio Pellegrino’s side as they claimed a surprising ninth-place finish, playing his part in a backline that conceded the league’s fifth-equal lowest tally of goals. Going forward, he also contributed four assists, while also netting a superb free-kick against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.
At 19 years old, his star was on the rise, and it was Atléti’s city rivals in Real Madrid, who swooped in to sign the left-back for his release clause fee of €24m. Los Rojiblancos desperately wanted the player to renew his deal and stay, but the player was determined to leave, having been discontent with the lack of opportunities he had been given prior to his loan spell.
Unfortunately for him, it would prove to be a similar story at Los Blancos, with Marcelo the undisputed first-choice under Zinedine Zidane. Having made just 17 starts in his first year, the Frenchman was then loaned out again, returning to the Basque Country – but to play for Real Sociedad instead.
He made 28 appearances for the team during the 2018/19 campaign, before finding himself deemed surplus to requirements back in Madrid. With Zidane keen on selling fringe players to raise funds for incoming arrivals, Milan came into the picture, with Maldini even meeting with the player in Ibiza to convince him his future was much brighter in Italy.
When someone like Maldini chooses you, it shows he trusts you.
– Theo Hernández
A fee of €20m (£18m) was agreed for his services, and since arriving at the San Siro, Hernández has made the left-back spot his own. He started nearly every game for the Rossoneri when available last season, and has made it clear that he wants to stay for the long-term, making the position his to keep for the years to come.
Finally, it appears that the defender has found the perfect learning environment for him to grow and improve in. Now able to fully show what he’s capable of, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes one of the best full-backs in the world.