Any striker at any level would be disappointed with having yielded no goals from 31 shots taken, let alone one who is always in the public eye.
Yet this was Gonzalo Higuain’s record between a goal versus Sampdoria on October 28 and last Saturday night’s strike in AC Milan’s fixture with SPAL, the latter ending a goal drought that had stretched across 10 matches in all competitions.
“He lives for the goal, he has always been a marksman and therefore really struggled to deal with this negative period,” admitted Coach Gennaro Gattuso to reporters in his post-match press conference. “The defeat to Juventus, with the penalty and red card, was a terrible blow for him.
“Higuain needs to rediscover that consistency and precision in his finishing, because he has always had those elements. We’ve missed him and hope this has also broken through that mental block.”
Those comments from Gattuso provide an honest assessment of Higuain’s mental fragility, as the player’s flaws continue to divide opinion as to whether he is a truly world-class marksman or merely a top-level choker.
Whether he’s scoring goals, expressing fits of rage that lead to red cards or missing high-profile chances, the Argentine is never far away from the headlines. Yet one thing you can’t argue with is his record-breaking season under Maurizio Sarri at Napoli.
Upon the tactician’s arrival in Naples at the beginning of 2015/16, the pair forged a relationship which would lead to a career-high single-season goal tally for Pipita.
Firing in 36 times during that league campaign would see Higuain beat Gunnar Nordahl’s record of 35 that had previously stood for 66 years, but it was not always sunshine and rainbows between the two.
“What did I say to Higuain in pre-season? I told him he was too lazy and if he didn’t change his attitude he’d never become the best centre-forward in the world,” Sarri explained to Sky Italia back in October 2015.
“He agreed with that assessment in part, as he couldn’t get 100% out of his capabilities. We spoke clearly, so this turned into an honest and direct rapport that probably helps motivate him.”
By the end of 2015, Higuain already had 16 league goals, and it was very clear that he was blossoming under the careful monitoring of his Coach. “I am feeling better than last year. I am more calm and relaxed, maybe because our results are better than last year,” the player admitted to Sky Italia in December.
“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 in Naples. I’ve learned from my mistakes and I want to make history at Napoli. That’s why I am at here.”
Bringing forth that kind of consistency from a player so prone to barren spells was no mean feat from Sarri, and it is no wonder that Higuain described the current Chelsea boss as the “best manager I’ve worked under in my career” as he went on to complete his best-ever campaign.
No wonder then, that the transfer rumour mill has gone into overdrive ahead of the January window, a reunion now even more likely than it was last summer given Higuain’s poor form since.
Indeed, the 31-year-old has already been booed by supporters at San Siro, his tally of six league goals in 15 starts not reaching anywhere near the level of expectation he arrived with from Juventus.
Any move to Chelsea would be complicated by the fact that the player is in fact still on loan from Juve with an option to buy, and his current club would surely be reluctant to let Higuain leave for the Premier League.
However, the Stamford Bridge outfit could take over the loan – which comes with a £33 million option to buy – or convince the Milan board to cancel their agreement with Juventus in order that they can make a fresh move.
Of course, Milan would need a sweetener, and what better way to seal the deal than to offer failing star Alvaro Morata in return? Supporters will remember all-too-well that he scored the winner for Juve in the 2016 Coppa Italia final versus the Rossoneri, and he too could be rejuvenated by a return to the Italian top flight.
Transfer betting fans can back Higuain to return to Spain with 6/1 odds offered by BetVictor for any Spanish side. However, with all the above in mind, their odds of 2/1 on a move to Chelsea by the end of the January window is a more feasible option.
You can also back Morata to move in the opposite direction, the odds currently set at 2/1 for a move to AC Milan, providing a superb double for bettors who believe the clubs will indeed pull off this swap deal.
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