Throughout his career, Gonzalo Higuain has had many labels. He’s been branded a big-money savior and a superstar for some of the biggest clubs in the world. He’s also been deemed a choke-artist and a player that shrinks in the biggest moments.
There is still evidence to suggest both of those viewpoints are accurate. Higuain’s career is filled with highs that are matched by few over the last decade and lows that somehow eclipse them all.
However, no matter what label you affix to him, there’s no denying that the Argentinian striker is one hell of a goalscorer. He’s fired 306 club goals and 31 for his country, making him one of the most prolific goalscoring stars of the last decade and a half.
That is what Inter Miami is paying for as they add Higuain as the club’s third Designated Player: goals. They are paying for the player that finds the back of the net and a player that will now have a chance to bury some of his demons deep under the sand of South Beach.
The success of this deal will depend on Higuain’s ability to rise again; he has become both loanee and backup in recent seasons. The 32-year-old striker will score goals in MLS because he’s too talented not to, but how many will depend on which version of Higuain shows up in Florida.
At his best, Higuain was dominant. He was a key figure for some fantastic Real Madrid teams before reaching stratospheric numbers with Napoli by smashing Serie A’s single-season goalscoring record. Even his start to life at Juventus was good, with Higuain firmly cemented as one of the best strikers in the world just three years ago.
It was at that point things began to change, when the bad started to overshadow the good. For years, his performances with Argentina hung over him with costly misses during the 2014 World Cup and 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas seeing many rue his lack of a clutch gene.
If Inter Miami’s version of Higuain is the one that showed up at Chelsea or AC Milan, the club will still probably be just fine. He’ll score some decent goals against MLS defenses and, given his stature, get more eyeballs on the team than they already had.
But, at this point in his career and this franchise’s tenure, both parties need more than « just fine » to justify this sort of move.
In Miami’s case, Higuain is the high-profile name that was always promised, but he’s not quite as high profile as some they were originally linked to. Higuain has had a fantastic career, but he’s no Ronaldo or Messi.
Now, those names were unrealistic from the start, but even the likes of David Silva, Luka Modric and Luis Suarez have more recognition stateside and more recent seasons near the top of Europe’s elite.
As a result, this move will focus mostly on the sporting side. Inter Miami has shown a desperate need for a No. 9 as the club has struggled to find goals. Higuain, on the surface, seems like a perfect fit: a player that can play in front of players like Rodolfo Pizarro, Matias Pellegrini and former Juventus teammate Blaise Matuidi and provide those goals.
Higuain will have to prove he still has that in him and, if he does, it could go a long way towards adjusting his legacy. He can’t erase those difficult loan spells or those international misses, but he can make sure that the final moments of his playing career are remembered fondly. He may never earn the admiration of Europe’s critics, but he could earn the admiration of America’s star-driven soccer landscape.
And there’s a mold for him to follow. Robbie Keane came to the U.S. at a similar age and, by the time he left Los Angeles, he was one of MLS’ most dominant strikers. David Villa treated every moment of his MLS career like it was El Clasico, and he became a cultural foundation for New York City FC’s future.
Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney were all considered past their prime when they showed up in MLS, but each proved to be a franchise-changing leader while earning legitimate appreciation from those that were lucky enough to watch on.
That is the opportunity Higuain now has in front of him: the chance to define a franchise and establish a new chapter. It’s one of the allures of American soccer, and one of the things that make Inter Miami’s first-ever season so interesting.
When Higuain does eventually step away from the game, he’ll have to come to terms with whatever labels are used to define his career. Some will remember him as Napoli’s star, while others will remember him as Argentina’s letdown.
But this Inter Miami move gives him the chance to earn one more: the label of icon for a club that gives him the chance to be a building block and centerpiece one more time.
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