Juventus Striker Gonzalo Higuain Is A Victim Of Unfortunate Circumstances

It’s strange to think that only three years have passed since summer 2016. During that transfer window, Juventus signed striker Gonzalo Higuain for an astonishing €90 million, the third-highest transfer fee of all time at that point. 

The Argentine hitman had made the move north from Naples, a place where he had broken the Serie A single-season goal-scoring record with 36 strikes in only 35 matches. Despite his beginnings with Real Madrid and his previous two campaigns at Napoli under Rafa Benitez, this was the very peak of his reputation, and he owed it to one man.

Maurizio Sarri joined the club at the beginning of the 2015-16 season and immediately struck up a rapport with Higuain, a factor that certainly helped him on his way to that huge goal tally.

“I am feeling better than last year,” the striker revealed to Sky Italia back in December 2015. “I am more calm and relaxed, maybe because our results are better than last year. The first time I spoke to Sarri it was shortly after he arrived at the club. He took just a few minutes to convince me to remain at the club. I’ve learned from my mistakes and I want to make history at Napoli. That’s why I am here.”

Of course, the Napoli fans were not at all happy when his performances that year led to interest from their rivals for the Serie A title, but Juve were ruthless in that particular transfer window as sporting director Beppe Marotta also secured the signing of star midfielder Miralem Pjanic from fellow rivals AS Roma. 

Now we return to the point from which we started, a peak Pipita about to join Juventus, the team that won the league despite his 36 goals the year before.

Here is a player who has clearly made some high-profile misses in the past, especially at the international level. He has also, at times, struggled with his weight when returning to preseason training. It’s easy to create the narrative of a lazy choker, but upon deeper inspection of his record and performances, there is an alternative version of events.

With the Bianconeri, Higuain was immediately required to improve his fitness and had to make the transition from being the focal point of an entire side to being a star among many. His game had to be adjusted to working as a cog in a well-drilled machine, one that was not going to yield as much personal glory as he had enjoyed the season before. 

He finished that season with 29 strikes in all competitions, becoming the first Juve player to score more than 20 goals in a debut season since John Charles and Omar Sivori did so in the 1957-58 campaign. He also fired in a brace in the Champions League semifinal first leg versus Monaco, a lead that would ultimately be a huge part of sending his side to the final that year.

Yet it was during his second season in Turin that Higuain really learned how to become more of a team player, almost doubling his assist tally with seven in all competitions compared to four in the previous campaign. Indeed, he would lay on the winning goal for teammate Paulo Dybala in an extremely hard-fought Round of 16 match versus Tottenham in the Champions League. 

One thing you can always be sure of with Juventus is that they make financially sound decisions in the transfer market. When the opportunity arose to re-sign Leonardo Bonucci at the beginning of last season, it served a purpose to make the swap with Higuain and Mattia Caldara, shedding the 30-year-old’s high wages while he still had some value.

This made perfect sense for the club, but it was no surprise that the striker seemed unsure. A look at the Juventus documentary on Netflix revealed that Higuain has a sensitive personality, a need to be loved and to feel confident in his own abilities. Suddenly he was taken from a place where he had settled and found his rhythm to Milan, a club with its own internal issues and huge, immediate expectations for their new star striker. 

Novice boss Gennaro Gattuso struggled to alter his system in order to make the most from Higuain, and the more he struggled, the more he became frustrated. That, in turn, made the supporters — who of course had huge expectations from such a high-profile player — become discontented, which of course affected the Argentine’s fragile confidence. 

It was no surprise then, that when former mentor Maurizio Sarri came calling, Higuain answered right away. After he scored just six times in the first half of the season for Milan, Juve agreed to cancel the loan and obligation to buy and instead sent Higuain to his former boss at Chelsea. 

The problem was that Sarri had other priorities the second time around in terms of dealing with criticism from both fans and media, all while he was adjusting to his first year in England. Higuain’s five goals in 13 Premier League starts meant he almost became a laughing stock as he was sent back to Juve with his tail between his legs.

Now, the player finds himself in another difficult situation. Reports suggest that he wants to stay in Turin with Sarri, who of course has now been appointed at Juve. Yet the club need to offload his wages and see some kind of return on the money they paid for him for Financial Fair Play purposes.

Roma has been mooted as a potential destination, but the striker is said to have refused any potential moves, leaving him in a difficult situation.

On the surface it seems like this is the same old Pipita, a washed-up has-been that is desperately clinging on to the good times of the past. Yet the fairer explanation reveals that this player is simply a victim of unfortunate circumstances, with no end yet in sight to his difficulties.

Chloe Beresford specializes in Serie A for a number of outlets and can be found on Twitter and on Facebook via her page CalcioByChloe.

Roma Defender Chris Smalling Has Been Stellar In Italy

As if he’d not made enough of an impression since joining AS Roma on loan from Manchester United in the summer, defender Chris Smalling really stood out as an exceptional talent on the week of his 30th birthday. 

Hofstra Coach Simon Riddiough Doesn't Need The Power 5 To Define Success

By Jerry Beach

Simon Riddiough, the head coach of the Hofstra women’s soccer team, spent about two minutes of a 21-minute interview Tuesday afternoon discussing why he’s content at the Long Island school and not planning to see if he can replicate his success with a higher-profile Power Five school that would offer the resources and opportunities to make a deep NCAA Tournament run that are generally lacking in the mid-major arena.

Carlo Ancelotti, Aurelio De Laurentiis & Napoli Are In Complete Chaos

It’s hard to believe that only as far back as April 22, 2018, Napoli beat Juventus 1-0 in Turin to move top of the table with only four games remaining. Maurizio Sarri — himself now in charge at Juve — had broken the club record points total in each of the previous two campaigns, and would do so again in 2017-18, but the Naples men ultimately finished second, albeit with yet another unseen total of 91 points.

Canada Has An Opportunity To Prove Their Standing On Friday Against USMNT

This is the moment of truth for Canada's men's national team. 

Concacaf Nations League Returns For Final Group State In November

After nearly a month of waiting for the Concacaf Nations League to kick back into gear, the tournament is finally back this week with the final two matchdays in group play. 

Seattle Sounders & Toronto FC Clash With The MLS Cup On The Line

Just over a week after the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC went on the road and upset the favorites, MLS Cup 2019 is on the horizon as the 24th season in league history comes to a close. CenturyLink Field in Seattle will be the epicenter on Sunday at 3 PM when the two sides face off in the MLS Cup final for the third time in the past four years. 

Paulo Fonseca & The Unlikely Resurgence Of AS Roma In Serie A

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Potential USMNT Contributors From The Nations League Pre-Camp

November 15 could be a day of reckoning for Gregg Berhalter and the United States men's national team. After last month's 2-0 defeat to Canada — the first loss to their neighbors in 35 years — Berhalter needs a win in Orlando to help rectify the USA's position in the first-ever Concacaf Nations League. Anything other than a win would mean that Canada will advance to the semifinals, a shocking result for the U.S.

10 Things In Italy: Mario Balotelli, de Ligt Handballs & Conte's Inter

With the action in Italy heating up both on and off the field, it’s time to get you caught up with what’s been happening in the world of Serie A and, as always, “10 Things” is here to bring you right up to date.

Concaclusions, Ep. 9: Pulisic Strikes Again, Jiménez Haunts Arsenal

Another round of club play is in the books, and several of the region’s top players were in the headlines once again through clutch goals, quality performances, and even uncharacteristic errors.