Heading towards his 40th birthday, Gianluigi Buffon may never have a better chance to lift club football’s most prestigious trophy; his only European triumph a UEFA Cup with Parma in 1999, six months after Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe was born.
Yet if the French striker and Italian goalkeeper arrive for this clash at opposite ends of their careers, where does that leave Gonzalo Higuain? The Argentine is, at 29, still relatively young, but has enjoyed a long, fruitful career. He launched his name to prominence back in 2006, netting two goals for River Plate against rivals Boca Juniors and was quickly snapped up by Real Madrid a few months later.
In the Spanish capital he scored goals at a spectacular rate, 107 in 190 La Liga appearances helping Los Blancos win three league titles plus a Copa del Rey. However, it was during his time at the Bernabeu his accomplishments began to be punctuated with a “yeah, but…”
He was unquestionably one of the deadliest strikers around, but saying so, was switfyly followed by the familiar retort. “Yeah, but he only scored eight goals in 48 Champions League appearances for Madrid,” was one of the early examples, his lack of impact cited as a reason Real never sealed European glory during his time there.
The summer of 2013 saw him on the move again, to Napoli, where he became even more prolific. A staggering 91 goals in just three seasons included a Serie A single-season record of 36 last term, a return that broke a previous best which had stood unchallenged since the 1949/50 campaign.
But aside from a single Coppa Italia, his deadly prowess in front of goal did not translate into silverware. During this time he would squander vital chances internationally too, the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Copa America finals adding to the list of big games where Higuain failed to deliver. Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria also failed to score in those games, “yeah, but…” it was misses from Higuain that cost Argentina.
His move to Juventus ensured he became a hate figure in Naples. Diego Maradona lambasted his decision, “Yeah, but I would never have done that”.
Higuain responded the only way he knows how. Less than eight months have passed since his club record €90 million transfer to the Turin giants, yet he already has 29 goals to his name in all competitions. You know what’s coming. “Yeah, but…” none have been in the Champions League knockouts. Domestically he has been sensational, but Higuain’s three goals in Europe came against Dinamo Zagreb (2) and Lyon in the group stage.
But now the season is getting serious. Roma’s loss to Lazio at the weekend brought the Bianconeri to the precipice of their sixth-consecutive Serie A title, while they are also in the Coppa Italia final again.
“Yeah, but…” Juve were winning those competitions without Higuain. It may be harsh but the perceived success or failure of that transfer will be judged solely on whether or not he helps deliver Champions League glory.
It has been 21 years since “Ol’ Big Ears” was lifted by the Old Lady, and with the depth and quality of her current squad, there will arguably never be a better time to end that agonising wait. Buffon deserves it, the club’s supporters eagerly anticipate it.
The new No9 won the penalty that ultimately decided the last-16 clash with Porto, but it was compatriot Paulo Dybala who was the star as Barcelona were eliminated. However, with two games against Monaco and potentially a final to follow, there is time to rewrite the narrative. If he can score decisive goals, his reputation as a player who shrinks in the biggest moments could finally be dismissed.
A Juventus Champions League win? “Yeah, but they couldn’t do it without Gonzalo Higuain…”