As Dani Alves lofted a perfectly weighted ball into the Monaco penalty area, who else was going to latch on to it except Gonzalo Higuain?
Well actually, you could forgive the viewer for thinking the Argentine might not latch onto it. Before his double against Monaco last night, he’d only scored two goals in the Champions League KO rounds.
When Juventus signed Gonzalo Higuain, there was some noise about weakening Napoli (which it did), but in reality, the signing of Higuain was for one reason that has become an obsession for this Juventus group – winning the Champions League. It’s not often a player of Higuain’s calibre is available, in his prime, after breaking a momentous record (Most Serie A goals in a season).
A lot of excuses could be made for Higuain’s CL record – Napoli and Benitez’s poor performance, often being used a substitute in Real’s CL games (not to mention their general underperformance prior to Mourinho’s arrival). It made a lot of sense for Juve to pull the trigger, even if he did cost €90m.
The Twittersphere, and especially the FootballTwittersphere, is a hotbed for piping hot takes. Did Higuain validate his monumental transfer fee, not to mention his alleged €148k/week salary, with his performance last night?
In a way, yes. He did as much to validate it as humanly possible. Juventus are cruising towards their sixth consecutive Serie A title, not to mention on course for the treble, a feat only ever achieved by one other Italian team (Inter Milan).
However, it’s a piping hot take to argue Higuain has ‘validated’ his transfer fee with just a semi-final. Juventus’ quest for the Champions League has become somewhat of an obsession, but in an objective sense, has he really validated it?
The total sum of Higuain’s transfer (fee + wages over five years) is €127.5m, divide that by the number of contract years and you can look at the transfer as an obligatory ‘loan’ of €25.5m, except Juventus have to pay that every summer for five years.
For reaching the final of the Champions League in 2015/16, Real Madrid received €15m extra revenue, whilst Atletico Madrid received €10.5m. When you look at Higuain’s goals last night, which all but sealed the Bianconeri’s place in Cardiff. Higuain has already gone someway in repaying the money Juventus paid for him.
Not to mention the money Juventus will receive for actually playing in the final (plus merchandising revenue, etc.). The issue that will always remain and can’t really be answered, is could Juventus have done it without Higuain? We don’t know.
I was one of those people who didn’t see Juve weakening Napoli as a ‘priority’, as over the course of a season, I thought Juve would win the Scudetto nine times out of ten. However, Higuain has chipped in with some invaluable goals (Fiorentina, Napoli, Torino, er, Napoli again). He’s certainly proved his league worth with Roma being nine points behind.
Short term – Yes he absolutely has.
This is where it gets tricky, Juventus have never been a team to think in the short term. The Higuain contract gets difficult because of two simple factors a) he’s signed through to 2021 b) he turned 29 this season.
He’s getting to the point where he’s logging some pretty heavy minutes. The past four league seasons alone he’s played near enough 2500+ minutes in all of them. Perhaps his body will be unforgiving as he played a bit part role whilst in Madrid (in his last three league campaigns at Real he only logged 4800 minutes).
The above graph shows the ‘football age curve’ and which years are considered the peaks years by a given position. Strikers are generally done by the time they’re 31. Which is worrying for Juventus as they’d have Higuain locked down at €7.5m a year for another two years. If he wasn’t performing, that’d be a huge financial burden.
The issue with hindsight is that it’s 20/20. We can look back at the Higuain transfer and say ‘Oh well, without him Juventus probably win Serie A again, but maybe don’t make the Champions League final, why didn’t they just save it to spend on a prodigy like Mbappe?’
This sounds great in practice. Juve could’ve simply waited another year and retooled their squad with two or three prodigious youngsters. Mbappe wasn’t at the hype levels he was last summer, and spending big on youngsters can be a tricky process.
It’s not like Juventus are particularly living in squalor, they have Champions League riches, highest TV revenue in Serie A and own their own stadium. A lot of the takes on the Higuain transfer was that it was a once in a life time opportunity – it wasn’t.
Juventus only have two major European trophies (’85 and ’96), with a lot of heartbreak before, in between and after those triumphs. Whilst Agnelli and Marotta run their team like a business, and if you have to make one questionable long term gamble to win something as emphatic as a Champions League – then you have to pull the trigger. It’s become an obsession for The Old Lady, and if this squad never won the Holy Grail, hindsight would taunt them with ‘Well, why didn’t they just pay big for Higuain in 2016?’.
Come 3rd June, the pundits may not be arguing that.