Napoli goal machine Gonzalo Higuain – is the Argentine over or underrated?
Holly Thackeray | April 7, 2016
Last time out in Serie A, as Scudetto challengers Napoli imploded against Udinese allowing Juventus to increase their stranglehold on the summit, star striker Gonzalo Higuain showcased all the attributes that make him such a formidable, but also frustrating, figure…
The Little Donkeys’ dangerman dispatched early on, rifling his side level from just outside the area, sparking jubilant celebrations, before it all went a little sour for the striker.
Awarded a red card after being cautioned twice, Higuain appeared to fly off the handle, laying hands on the referee and having to be dragged from the pitch, as the Neapolitan side succumbed 3-1, all-but blowing their title chances.
It may well be that Higuain saw his hopes of a league medal disappearing down the plug hole, but the striker inadvertently encapsulated his team’s loosening grip on Juve, as he left the field – his 30 strikes in 31 Serie A outings this season (a haul not seen since Luca Toni hit 31 circa 2006) overshadowed by disciplinary issues and a hot head.
Watch the Argentine ace’s stunning strike here:
Home sweet home for Higuain
With many a Premier League club linked to a summer swoop for the France-born Argentina international, and Higuain himself having hit an Italian top-tier milestone, Coral found it an ideal time to consider what the marksman’s next move should be and whether he should depart the peninsula at all…
Higuain gets hot under the collar:
Former Juventus and Italy coach Antonio Conte has been announced as next Chelsea boss, and is tipped to hold an interest in the expensive attacker, while Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United are among others mooted to be tracking Higuain.
Yet, if you take a gander at the fantastic footage from the Stadio San Paolo below, as the southern Italian stadium erupts in honour of their striker, it is worth wondering whether it would be wise to leave after all.
Having had a crack at being a giant club’s leading man before at Real Madrid, Higuain was considered not quite up to scratch (though ambivalence from a fickle Los Blancos is hardly a damning indictment) and surplus to requirements next to well-rounded peer Karim Benzema.
A few years on now, is the Argentine ready to return from the relative wilderness of Italy, or is an ambitious project like that of Campania club Napoli (now 11/2 outsiders for the Scudetto) better suited to the sharpshooter?
In Naples, Higuain has the chance to become a club legend, with the fanbase passionate and demanding like few others. Yet, the Premier League may bring greater chances of glory, but there are questions marks as to whether the striker would be up to the challenge.
A marksman mentality?
Higuain’s hasty actions upon seeing red not only hampered his side for the rest of the Stadio Fruili fixture, but will also deprive the Little Donkeys of their star player for four further matches against Hellas Verona, Inter Milan, Bologna and Roma – a stretch that could be decisive in the title race.
With an instinctive ability to hit the back of the net from almost any angle inside the box, Higuain undoubtedly posses the timing and the tallies of a truly talented leading man, but this example of crumbling under pressure is not the only time the frontman has been criticised for losing his cool at the highest level.
Widely lambasted for skying both a penalty and being unable to convert crucial chances in the 2015 Copa America and 2014 World Cup, as Argentina narrowly missed out on silverware in two finals, fingers have been pointed at Higuain being unable to hack it in the big moments.
A shootout memorable for the wrong reason:
But is this true or fair? Higuain did undoubtedly fail to find the net on those occasions, his spot-kick versus Chile perhaps the most painful, though there was a similar occurrence as he scuppered a penalty against Lazio for Napoli last campaign that, if scored, would probably have secured Champions League football.
Yet, that match is probably a prime example of the Argentine’s poaching woe, as Higuain hit a brace to send the Campania club level, before his miserly miss and the southern Italians’ sudden capitulation meant a fourth place finish.
Big game poaching prowess
As good as he is, Higuain cannot do it all himself and despite the unwanted and unwise comparisons – Diego Maradonna he is not. A finisher rather than a magician, the now 28-year-old has reached his ceiling and knows his own limitations.
Still, a trio of La Liga medals, plus a gaggle of Spanish and Italian cups, mean Higuain has little to prove. Though, a glance over Higuain’s hauls versus the big teams reveals a rather mixed bag.
In Spain, there were struggles against Barcelona in El Clasico (18 appearances, three goals) but goals galore against Atletico Madrid (nine in five) and especially Valencia (10 from 13).
While Serie A has seen a surge in big game bags from the South American, despite not playing for a dominant Juventus, with Lazio (12 in 11), AC Milan (five from nine) and Inter Milan (five in seven) all victims of his potency, though Juve and Roma were slight exceptions.
People will always remember the misses and what a player didn’t win when weighing up a prolific scorer, but surely no-one can ask more than 30 strikes in 31 games from their sharpest of shooters; at least not in Naples, where a Scudetto has not been lifted since 1990.
In Madrid, Barcelona, and maybe even Manchester there could conceivably be greater expectations, and if a record such as Higuain’s does not stand up to scrutiny by richer clubs, Napoli will surely happily keep their net threat safe at the Stadio San Paulo.
See all Higuain’s hits across 2015:
Few sides would snub such a reliable scorer, put perhaps the most prestigious should sniff around elsewhere if they seek that extra sprinkling of stardust which turns a great footballer into an elite one.
Nothing is set in stone, but with six points to scrape back to reach the summit and without their main man, both Napoli and Higuain seem to have come up short of the mark again for silverware success.
So, perhaps before both throwing the towel in on each other, both club and player should consider themselves a perfect match, and come back again for another crack.