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Spain

Gonzalo Higuain Important as Ever for Real Madrid




The Cibeles had longed for it for four full seasons and in the end, Jose Mourinho delivered. Real Madrid’s 32nd league title was realistically sealed on an epic 21st April, when Los Blancos ran out 2-1 winners over Barcelona at the Camp Nou; mathematical confirmation had to wait however until the team recorded an emphatic 3-0 win against Athletic Bilbao, at the Basque side’s own San Mames, no less.

The Spanish capital dressed in white for this occasion, as hundreds of thousands of fans gathered around the Cibeles square and fountain – which has become synonymous with every Real Madrid trophy celebration – on the night of Thursday 3rd May to welcome the home returning side.

And this time, the occasion involved greater joy, as Real Madrid proved their superiority all year long over the rest of La Liga. More important however was the fact that this team edged out what is surely the greatest Barcelona side ever by an eventual nine points; this has added a special flavour to the festivities in the Spanish capital, which still linger. Talk of the “end of an era” concerning foes Barcelona is seriously thrown into the mix.

The title win powered celebration on the night, as the Real Madrid squad wore smiles and waved at the ecstatic crowd. But, amidst the fevered partying, Gonzalo Higuain appeared more reserved, as if his thoughts had already drifted elsewhere.

“Thank you for what you gave us”, read the signature on Higuain’s celebration shirt. Signed by several superstars of the team, it was a sincere gesture from the squad to the man that opened the scoring against Athletic Bilbao. But more importantly, it was a sign of the gratitude felt towards the team’s fourth-choice captain, as speculation grew that he was set to depart the Santiago Bernabeu after five campaigns of service.

It is not hard to see why the Argentine is a hot commodity and wanted by the likes of Paris-Saint Germain and Chelsea, among others. Gonzalo Higuain is an assured face in the Argentina national side, having scored 12 goals in 23 international outings so far and 103 in 219 appearances for his club. But the forward’s profile did not aide him in securing a permanent spot in Mourinho’s starting eleven this season, as Karim Benzema became the coach’s preferred option, despite starting his personal term on a high note with hat-tricks against Espanyol, Real Betis, and Chile while on international duty – all in October.

Despite having built a reputation for wastefulness in front of goal, Benzema soon relegated Higuain to second fiddle at the Bernabeu; this the man that Mourinho pointed out at the start of the 2010/11 campaign that selecting him was akin to “going hunting with a cat”. Indeed, Benzema’s metamorphosis has been remarkable, so much so that Higuain only started 17 La Liga games, while Benzema managed 25 in 2011/12.

Perhaps more important were Benzema’s fine displays against Barcelona this season, a key reason that saw him the preferred choice for the number 9 position at the club. The ex-Lyon striker opened the scoring after just a few seconds against the Blaugrana in the league last December, and was marvellous in the return fixture, despite failing to find the net. With his attacking quadruplet of Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel di Maria and Mesut Ozil, Real Madrid finished the league season with 121 goals. Such a winning formula would never be discarded by any coach.

And so, it has seemed for some time that Higuain could be a casualty of his own ambition at Real Madrid this summer, even if Mourinho and co. want him to remain.

Paris-Saint Germain are keen on the Argentine and it is believed a meeting between the two parties occurred a few weeks ago where the French club’s president Nasser Al-Khelaifi told his target that he wanted him to be the Parc des Princes’ Cristiano Ronaldo, promising a yearly wage of €6M, a vast increase on the €3.5M the striker currently earns. Furthermore, fellow compatriot and PSG playmaker Javier Pastore revealed that Higuain has been in contact with him to question him over various issues. “Two weeks ago, he called me to ask me about the club, Ligue 1 and the city of Paris”, declared Pastore.

But having just one pure striker besides the Argentine in the squad, it is unlikely that Mourinho will allow Higuain to leave easily, as the Portuguese boss starts his preparations for next season. Indeed, Mourinho has claimed that the former River Plate starlet is staying put. “An offer of 40, 50, 60 million euros could be made, whatever, but Real Madrid will not want to sell. I don’t have a problem. My two centre-forwards for next season will be Higuain and Benzema", said the manager, attempting to play down the growing speculation.

To this end too, Mourinho seems to have had a personal discussion with Higuain shortly after Real Madrid wrapped up the title, promising him more playing time next season and the beginning of new contractual negotiations for a better salary.

Higuain’s season has hardly been a disaster. He still managed to be the team’s second highest goalscorer in the league with 22 strikes, as opposed to Benzema’s 20, and was the most used substitute by Mourinho. At no point did it seem that his boss had lost faith in him, and the clearest indication of this was his involvement from the start in the game against Athletic Bilbao at the beginning of the month, the match that granted Real Madrid the title.

The Chelsea, Juventus, Manchester City and Paris-Saint Germain rumour mill will continue to churn over the upcoming summer. But at this point, it seems there is still much to be said and done before, if at all, Higuain packs his bags at the Bernabeu.



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Published: Tuesday, 15th May 2012