Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Gonzalo Higuain is giving Napoli fans plenty to celebrate since moving over from Real Madrid. Girogio Perottino
Gonzalo Higuain is giving Napoli fans plenty to celebrate since moving over from Real Madrid. Girogio Perottino
Gonzalo Higuain is giving Napoli fans plenty to celebrate since moving over from Real Madrid. Girogio Perottino

Gonzalo Higuain is finally the top option

Gonzalo Higuain has four goals from six starts and Napoli feel doubly blessed for Higuain’s early impetus.

Gonzalo Higuain will expect to be booed at Ashburton Grove on Tuesday night, though the jeers may be milder than the last time he represented Napoli at the home of Arsenal.

That was two months ago, the occasion a friendly tournament, the Emirates Cup, and Higuain, then a relatively new arrival at Napoli, was the day’s pantomime villain, albeit through no cause of his own.

The special attention should be taken as a compliment.

Arsenal supporters spent half the summer transfer window hoping, indeed expecting, Higuain to join their club as the high-class centre-forward they thought they needed, with a proven record – six and half years at Real Madrid – and a cachet, as the No 1 choice for his country as Lionel Messi’s partner up front for Argentina.

Fans were not misguided in imagining Higuain in Arsenal’s colours, as Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, confirms, and they were entitled to regard not signing him as an opportunity missed.

“We were working on two or three targets and Higuain was one of them,” said Wenger.

“It didn’t come off in the end, but that doesn’t take anything away from his quality. Napoli took advantage at the right moment.”

That moment was brought about by Napoli’s sale of the Uruguayan Edinson Cavani, their prolific former striker, to Paris Saint-Germain.

A sumptuous €65 million (Dh323.2m) came to the Italian club as a result. The search for a replacement target man was urgent.

Higuain cost €37m, a fee Arsenal had dithered over.

Already it looks like a coup. Cavani had been plentiful for Napoli – 104 goals in 138 matches – but, so far, he is scarcely missed.

Higuain has four goals from six starts as a Napoli player, including one in the 2-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund that gave his team a flying start in the Uefa Champions League two weeks ago. Napoli feel doubly blessed for Higuain’s early impetus.

A freak accident, when he injured his face while swimming off the island of Capri on a day off shortly after he joined, had looked as if it might rule him out of action. Thankfully, though bloodied at the time and taken to hospital, the damage was not grave.

The football played by Rafa Benitez’s team suits Higuain, as Wenger notes.

“Napoli’s counter-attacking style is what struck me in the Emirates Cup,” said the Arsenal manager.

“When they win the ball they come out very quickly with Jose Callejon, Marek Hamsik, Lorenzo Insigne and Higuain – they all come out like bombs every time they win the ball.”

The Argentine, 26, is also enjoying being the principal striker.

It was not a status Madrid ever quite granted to Higuain. There, his early days were a challenge.

He was still a teenager when, in early 2007, he was asked to make the adjustment from Argentine domestic football, where he had played for River Plate, to the Spanish Primera Liga, and he had to do so in mid-season, as a January signing. Madrid’s coach at the time was Fabio Capello, who had just let the brilliant and popular Brazilian, Ronaldo, leave.

That meant Higuain had a good deal to live up to. While Capello admired his hard work, the goals did not flow, and at one point even Madrid’s public address announcer drew attention to a long barren spell. “At last, a goal for Higuain!” he declared to a full Bernabeu stadium during a match against Sevilla.

It was hardly an example of a club getting behind one of their own.

By the end of his Madrid spell, though, Higuain’s 122 goals from 264 games were a healthy reflection not just of his ability as a finisher, but a footballer with the capacity to play as a productive foil to others.

His partners in Madrid’s forward line were many, and mostly they were ahead of him in the hierarchy: players such as Ruud van Nistelrooy, Raul or Cristiano Ronaldo would more often be the focus of Madrid’s tactics than Higuain.

A benefit of that has come with Argentina, whose game plan is evolving more and more around Messi. Higuain is now established, ahead of the likes of Carlos Tevez, as the World Footballer of the Year’s preferred partner in attack.

Higuain has actually outscored Messi in the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, but he still felt that to ensure he remained Argentina’s No 9, he needed to move from Madrid, where a place in the first team was not always assured.

The same instincts led Mesut Ozil away from Madrid last month to Arsenal.

“As we now know,” said Wenger, “Real Madrid sold two great players in the summer. One of them went to Napoli, one went to Arsenal. So it’s 1-1 on that front.”

sports@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Glenn Maxwell's knock that followed ensured Brendon McCullum's knock went in vain after his explosive half-century took Chennai Super Kings past the 200-mark. Ravindranath K / The National

All is well with Punjab as Maxwell and Miller seal win against Chennai

The Australian missed out on a century but his 95 runs, along with Miller's unbeaten half-century, ensured Kings XI scaled a mighty peak of a target in a hot first game of Abu Dhabi's double-header.

 Sunderland manager Gus Poyet protests during the Premier League match against Crystal Palace at The Stadium of Light in Sunderland, northeast England, on March 15, 2014. Ian MacNicol / AFP

Sunderland going out of Premier League with a grumble

Northeast club have underwhelmed during seven-year stay in the top flight

 Hamburg players leave the field after the match against Borussia Moenchengladbach on March 30, 2014. AFP

Hamburg the dinosaur’s time may be up in Bundesliga

Ever-present for 51 years in the German top-flight, Hamburg face the prospect of relegation, writes Ian Hawkey.

 At 105 kg, Gabrielle Garcia has dominated the world circuit and loves many things about being in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National

Garcia seeks fresh challenge in MMA after her jiu-jitsu domination

Brazilian prides being a lioness in the sport but feels she can shed 25kg weight to pursue her MMA debut aspirations.

 England's Jonathan Trott hits out during the ICC Champions Trophy semi final match against South Africa at The Oval cricket ground, London June 19, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown

England’s Jonathan Trott sidelined with stress-related illness again

Jonathan Trott is to take a second break from professional cricket because of his stress-related illness as England and Wales Cricket Board and Warwickshire confirmed he will stop playing with immediate effect.

 Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho looks on during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at the Liberty Stadium on April 13, 2014 in Swansea, Wales. Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

‘That’s why we are a top club’ says Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech

Jose Mourinho’s men will temporarily claim the Premier League top spot if they beat Sunderland, leaving them in control of their own destiny in the title race ahead of a crucial trip to face Liverpool at Anfield on April 27.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National