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The unrecognized prowess of Gonzalo Higuain

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Pipita deserved better.

Fussball CHL 16/17 Halblfinale: AS Monaco - Juventus Turin Photo by Pressefoto Ulmer/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Gonzalo Higuain is a top 10 striker in the last decade.

This is not an opinion. This is not a take. This is a fact.

In the last 10 years, the soon-to-be former Juventus player was a top 10 striker in the world by number of goals scored, slotting in 240 during said time period. That ranks him above stars like Karim Benzema and compares favorably to guys like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, two players he trails by fewer than 10 goals.

By every single definition we have about what success looks like on the field, he should be a household name, and yet, as we prepare to bid goodbye to him, why is it that his departure is mostly met with shrugs at best and open joy at worst?

It’s a weird perception people have of the former Juventus No. 9, a perception that is almost more informed by his failures than his ample success. Higuain was bought from his boyhood club River Plate by Real Madrid, in an attempt to rejuvenate a squad that was starting to show its age in 2007. Despite scoring 121 goals during his six-year stint with the Spanish club, his stay was mostly considered a disappointment as he was sold to Napoli in 2013.

Of course, we all know what happened once Pipita landed in Naples with the Partenopei. He became the deadliest striker in Serie A scoring 91 times in three seasons and spearheading a deadly attack that brought the southern club to challenge the Juventus hegemony to the brink under the coaching of Maurizio Sarri.

Yet, the lasting image of the most prolific era for the Argentinian striker is the following:

(By the way, I don’t even know how the “miss” during the 2015 America Cup final is counted as a massive, egregious mistake. By the time Higuain gets to the ball, the angle is absolutely minimal and Claudio Bravo is right there to make the stop. It’s not an impossible play, but let’s not act like it’s a sitter either. The other two … well, yeah, those are not great.)

After breaking the Serie A single-season scoring record, Juventus acquired him for the then-Serie A record amount of €90 million, a signing that most people thought of as both too expensive and underwhelming for the player they were acquiring. Still, while it is true that at the time — and to this date — Juventus could have invested those funds into fixing what was starting to be a deteriorating midfield. But signing the record-breaking capocannoniere is hardly a bad move, either.

And again, what did people latch on to after the signing was completed?

West Ham United v Juventus - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Higuain is fat. Higuain is out of shape. He’s going to be a bust. Juve shouldn’t have bought him. Suddenly, the already controversial signing got even more controversial, all because the dude looked kind of tubby at a preseason game.

To paraphrase The Answer here, “Preseason? We talkin’ about Preseason?”

Despite the massive media story it was, Higuain delivered, scoring 32 times in all competitions in his first season as a Juve player. He helped Juventus get the domestic double, scoring the decisive two goals against Monaco in the Champions League semifinals to propel the club into the final.

Despite the disappointing end result in said final, it’s hard to ask for more of your marquee signing in his first season, and while he didn’t equal those numbers during his second season with the Bianconeri it’s impossible to say they were not good.

He scored 23 goals overall, won another domestic double, and had three massive goals to power Juventus over Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League quarterfinals. Plus, there was also this immediately iconic moment.

So, what does he get for his troubles? Well, Juventus signing one of the great strikers of all time to take his spot on the roster.

With no ceremony, no warning and certainly no thought for what was your record signing up until that point, he was shipped off to AC Milan and then Chelsea as Juventus desperately tried to get someone else to pay Higuain’s wages.

In what could be considered to be the worst season of his career and as he bounced from Italy to England, Pipita still scored 13 times — which is not elite by any sense of the word, but hardly terrible considering the circumstances.

He came back to Juventus as an afterthought, purely as an administrative move while he waited to be loaned out or sold. Despite that, he fought to stay on the club that was now managed by the same Sarri that oversaw his best year and ended up playing a key role in the early stages of the season as Juventus adapted to the new coach scoring key goals to beat his former club Napoli and Inter.

This is a player who featured for two of the best teams in Europe during his career — Real Madrid and Juventus — who broke the single season Serie A goal record and that for a fleeting moment was the most expensive transfer in the history of the Italian League.

It’s deeply unfair that the things he is most often mentioned for is flubbing two easy chances in big moments and the fact he looked kinda fat in a pre-season game.

I’m going to choose to remember him as he scored against Monaco in the semifinals of that memorable Champions League run in 2017. After a brilliant run and backheel pass from Dani Alves, Higuain took an easy shot to beat the keeper. Before that, he hadn’t scored in the knockout stages of the Champions League, and with the usual murmurs of his inability to come in the clutch starting to come up again, this goal was massive for him

What I will remember the most about the goal is not the fluidity of the counterattack or the brilliance of Paulo Dybala who started the play or Alves who provided the assist.

I remember that the first thing he did was beeline to celebrate with the visiting Juve fans.

(Please ignore the ghastly music and editing of this video. I’m unclear if putting the worst house music on the planet on every highlight video is a prerequisite but I’m guessing it is considering how often it shows up on these videos.)