€90 million. Ninety million euros. After a week of intense speculation, the deal finally became official on Tuesday night. Not only was Gonzalo Higuain a Juventus player, but he was also the subject of the third most expensive transfer deal in history, the Bianconeri handing Napoli that staggering sum for the Argentinian international.
Such an eye-watering fee – topped only by those Real Madrid paid for Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo – understandably sees the logic of the move questioned. Fans across the world immediately began to wonder if the man who spectacularly failed to deliver in the Copa America and World Cup Finals can really be the third most expensive player in history.
Yet it must be remembered that Higuain put those disappointments behind him in some fashion in 2015/16, breaking Serie A’s all-time single season scoring record by netting 36 times in 35 appearances. That saw him top AC Milan legend Gunnar Nordahl’s previous best by one goal, topping a mark which had previously stood unchallenged since 1950 and bringing Napoli to within touching distance of the league title they so badly crave.
However, he has now turned his back on the Stadio San Paolo, a stadium which once chanted his name so vociferously and joined their most bitter rivals. Higuain is a Juventus player and what follows is a look at the reasons both for and against the move from the Old Lady perspective, analysing why he might be either the perfect addition or a stunning waste of money.
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST SIGNING HIGUAIN
Could the money have been better spent?
The first question when looking at this deal is to consider where else Juventus could have spent those funds. The defence is as strong as possible after the additions of Medhi Benatia and Dani Alves, while Miralem Pjanic bolsters an already talent-laden midfield and leaves the attack as the only area in need of reinforcements.
If not Higuain, then who else could the Bianconeri have pursued? There is of course one simple answer here, and that would be to have paid Real Madrid to allow Alvaro Morata to remain in Turin. The Spanish giants activated their buy-back clause this summer, bringing the 23-year-old back to the Santiago Bernabeu at a cost of €30 million and surely could have been convinced to let him leave for much less that the additional €60 million Juventus handed Napoli?
That would have given the Old Lady a player who has a proven track record on the biggest stage, Morata’s goals in the Champions League and Coppa Italia Finals making his contribution stand out even more when compared to Higuain’s aforementioned “choking” when it matters most.
Can he fit into Max Allegri’s tactics?
A major question mark over Higuain has to be his ability to fit into the tactics of Juve boss Max Allegri, who almost exclusively fields formations that feature two attacking players working in tandem. The Argentinian star has not only played as part of a front three with his national team, but also did so with both Real Madrid and Napoli, meaning he will need to adapt during 2016/17.
There was also an attempt to do this at the San Paolo last term, new boss Maurizio Sarri experimenting with Higuain playing alongside Jose Callejon with Lorenzo Insigne tucked in behind. It flopped as the Partenopei earned just two points in three games, prompting the Coach to revert to a 4-3-3 framework that reaped instant rewards.
What if Higuain marginalises Paulo Dybala?
An extension of the previous point, as any shift in tactics could push Paulo Dybala to the fringes of the side. Higuain’s compatriot shone after arriving in Turin twelve months ago, weighing in with 21 goals and ten assists in his debut campaign. Allegri will be reluctant to push the youngster out wide, meaning the two Argentinians will need to spark up a good rapport as soon as possible.
Age & lack of resale value
Perhaps the most obvious point in this deal is Higuain’s age, as he is set to turn 29 in early December. That means that he will be almost 33 by the time his new contract with Juve expires, with a lucrative Chinese bid likely to be the only way the Bianconeri recoup any of their huge outlay.
THE ARGUMENT IN FAVOUR OF SIGNING HIGUAIN
Gap with Serie A rivals widens further
Having already weakened third-place AS Roma by snatching Pjanic, Juventus have arguably damaged both their closest rivals in a single summer. Higuain was responsible for 46% of Napoli’s league goals last year, and even with their pockets now bulging with cash, they are unlikely to find a player capable of replicating that level of output.
In addition, this should mean that the Bianconeri will face very little resistance as they seek a record sixth-consecutive league title, allowing them to concentrate their efforts elsewhere while still finishing on top domestically.
The fee hints at a return to the elite
Ten years ago, Juventus were playing in Serie B, their standing at home and abroad tainted by their involvement in the Calciopoli scandal. Even if subsequent evidence has pointed heavily at the guilt of others, the club was undoubtedly tainted by that punishment, and five years ago Antonio Di Natale refused a move to the club.
Since then, La Madama has ruled the Serie A landscape in the manner she always used to, sweeping all before her and marching to trophy after trophy. Yet the club’s record transfer fee remained the 2001 acquisition of Gigi Buffon, Director General Beppe Marotta working miracles on the market while operating on a tight budget.
After signing the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba on free transfers, there is no doubt that paying such a sum for Higuain lays down a marker and will act as a real statement that Juventus are now back at the top table of European football.
In the first of their title wins, Alessandro Matri was Juve’s leading scorer with ten goals. Since then, the Bianconeri have been led by both Carlos Tevez and Paulo Dybala, neither of whom are viewed as penalty box predators.
That all changes now, with Higuain guaranteeing a steady supply of goals after weighing in with with 71 goals in 104 total Serie A appearances for Napoli. Furthermore, his output has increased every season since 2012/13, netting 16, 17, 18 and 35 times in the subsequent campaigns.
He also boasts and impressive recent Champions League record, weighing in with five goals and four assists, bringing us neatly onto the final –and arguably most important – point.
The Champions League/Holy Grail
Twenty years have passed since that perfect night in Rome, Luca Vialli lifting the Champions League trophy above his head as the Bianconeri celebrated victory in UEFA’s elite competition. With their only other European Cup win tainted by the tragedy of Heysel, it is little wonder that the Old Lady has become somewhat obsessed with repeating the feat as soon as possible.
Allegri and many of his players have spoken of a desire to win in Europe next term, with Higuain quickly following their lead.
Indeed, as he arrived at Juventus Stadium to complete his medical on Wednesday morning, glory in club football’s most prestigious tournament was already on his mind.
“I’m very happy to be here,” Higuain told Sports Mediaset. “I hope to win the Champions League.” The Bianconeri will believe that he is the final piece of their jigsaw, that his goals can finally put them over the top and deliver the Holy Grail they are currently focussed on recapturing. The financial rewards, marketing possibilities and prestige of doing so are arguably immeasurable, but Juventus have just put a €90 million price tag on them.
If Gigi Buffon ends 2016/17 standing on a podium holding the Champions League trophy aloft at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, nobody will be asking questions about Higuain’s age, resale value or how he fits in alongside Paulo Dybala. Case closed.