It’s the first days of September, and I’d be lying to you all if I said that my post-transfer deadline day Juventus roster included Gonzalo Higuain. I figured trying to offload a player on the wrong side of 30 who has a rather large salary was going to be difficult, but I figured at some point Juve would figure it out and he would be playing elsewhere.
Boy, I was wrong.
I bet you thought along those same lines and ended up being wrong, too.
Yet, here we are. It’s the first week of September and Higuain is still in Turin. And not just still at Juventus, but a member of the starting lineup in both of the season’s first two games. And not just 2-for-2 in terms of starting lineup spots, but arguably one of Juventus’ best players in the first two games of the season, rocking the number that his fellow countryman — and the player he’s currently starting over — Paulo Dybala once thrived in and Zinedine Zidane made iconic.
Just like we all thought, right?
In a summer that has seen Juventus sign one of the most in-demand young players in recent memory as well as come close to selling their No. 10 to multiple Premier League clubs early in August, it’s who is still around that could be seen as some of the most interesting things to happen during the recently-closed transfer window. We thought Sami Khedira would probably be gone, but he’s still here. Rumors that Blaise Matuidi and Mario Mandzukic were going to leave were constants throughout the summer and they’re still wearing bianconero. And there’s Higuain, who this time last summer was probably still getting used to wearing an AC Milan jersey after the swap deal involving Leonardo Bonucci.
It’s a complete 180 from where we were a year ago.
Think about it: Higuain, the man who broke Serie A’s single-season goal record, was essentially forced out of the Juventus squad because of the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo. Some of it was due to financial reasons, some of it simply because Juventus needed to get rid of a striker with the arrival of Ronaldo. He was sent on loan to Milan as part of the deal that saw Leonardo Bonucci come back to Turin all of 12 months after leaving. All of five months later, he was sent on loan again, this time to Chelsea to reunite with the man who help him set the scoring record at Napoli, Maurizio Sarri.
Just like in Milan, though, it wasn’t the best of stints with Chelsea. And, as a result, the basic line in thinking was that if Juve could find a taker, then Higuain would be off wearing another club’s jersey come the start of the 2019-20 campaign.
So we thought.
Now, with Sarri at Juventus, Higuain is back at the club that once shelled out €90 million for him, a club record before Ronaldo came to town 14 months ago. It’s likely a combination of things that have gotten us to this point — the fact that Sarri is Juventus’ new manager and the familiarity the two have, the inability of Juve to actually sell him and the actual demand for a 31-year-old striker with such a high salary who has been on the downturn. But, what has come of it is probably one of the more unexpected things of the very young season.
It’s the fact that Higuain has actually been quite good.
Higuain starting the season opener against Parma three weekends ago wasn’t even a distinct thought a couple of months ago. Same goes for Higuain starting against Napoli in Juventus’ home opener seven days later. Hell, Higuain having any kind of spot on the roster, no matter how big of a role he played in his first two years with Juve, was going to be hard to believe.
Yet there he was, as Juve built a 3-0 lead over Napoli — let’s not talk about the three goals that happened after that, folks — playing a crucial role in all of it. He’s there and easily disposing of one of the best defenders in the world to score his first goal of the season in impressive fashion. And that’s after an impressive season debut against Parma where, even though he didn’t get on the scoresheet, he was easily one of Juve’s best players on the field.
Like I said earlier: Just like we all thought, right?
Who knows how long Higuain can continue this impressive run of form in his return to Juve. It’s not like two games will dictate how the entire season will go or that Higuain has cemented himself as the starter in the center of Juve’s attack over Dybala. Remember, it’s the early days of September, and the hope is that this Juventus squad continues to progress and evolve as they become more and more familiar and comfortable in Sarri’s system.
But as time goes on and Higuain continues to get the opportunity to play, there will only be more chances for him to justify it — and, in turn, the question being raised about just where his fellow Argentinian, Paulo Dybala, fits into this Juventus team.